VIEWPOINT;HEROES LIKE LEAKEY, BERNARDIN AND LOEB DEPART MUCH TOO SOON

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The captains and the kings depart. And we are losing our heroes.

Mary Leakey dies in Nairobi at age 83 and the headline writer of The New York Times describes her, and thrillingly, as the fossil-hunting anthropologist who "Traced Human Dawn."

In Chicago cancer takes Cardinal Bernardin who, until the instant of his death, was writing friends and even strangers cheerful and eloquent encouragement as they faced their own and often frightening fates.

The word from Calcutta is not good. A skinny old nun named Mother Teresa faces death with her own, unique brand of stoicism, pestering the doctors to remove these confounded tubes and let her be once again about her Father's business, in the fetid slums amid the untouchables and the unbelieving.

In Prague they are cutting cancers from the lungs of chain-smoking poet Vaclav Havel, the man who more than any other half a dozen years back, ignited the "velvet revolution" that toppled an authoritarian regime and freed Czechoslovakia. Havel's weapons were words and his battalions unarmed students who lighted candles in Wenceslas Square and faced down the troops and riot police until, shamed, they grounded their automatic rifles and joined the kids. So it was that so much of "mittel europa" was liberated.

And in Manhattan old John Loeb dies at age 94 at home in his own bed in his place on the Upper East Side.

If you don't know who Mr. Loeb was, his full name was John Langeloth Loeb Sr. and he ran a company called Loeb, Rhoades that is described as a "predecessor" of Shearson, Lehman. Which doesn't make him a hero but only a very rich man. Mr. Loeb's heroism came in other forms and in other ways.

For one thing, he gave away money. I am always impressed by anyone who went to Harvard (as he did, following a brief sojourn at Dartmouth; maybe it was the weather that sent him south to Cambridge?) but even more so by people who once gave 70 and a half million bucks to Harvard as Mr. Loeb also did. I guess the $70 million was for teachers and books and desks and stuff and maybe the half mil was to find some football players.

He was also our ambassador to Denmark for a time, which I don't imagine stretched his resources much but I'm sure he did a fine job. And he served on lots of committees and such and gave other money away and was a pal of Teddy Kollek of Jeru-salem.

But mostly the John Loeb Sr. that I knew was the gent who had lunch almost every day of his life in the Grill Room of the Four Seasons restaurant in Manhattan. He had houses at Lyford Cay and Purchase, N.Y., but when he was in Manhattan you could be sure Mr. Loeb was there in his favorite banquette (just next to Si Newhouse's) at the Grill Room. And despite eating well, which one does there, he never seemed to gain any weight. The Times described him as "tall, imposing, impeccably dressed," but I recall him more as very slim and with no paunch or discernible fat. This kind of thing also impresses me.

He would come in, stroll across the floor, take his seat and have lunch with pals or clients or who knows. Then he would stroll out again to wherever it is rich men go in the afternoons.

A few years ago he started wielding a cane. Then he moved on to a couple of canes. And maybe two years ago, to a walker. A plain old aluminum folding walker. He would come into the room accompanied by one chap, a chauffeur perhaps or other aide, who may have helped him up the stairs, and he would push his own walker laboriously across the room and then, at the table, hand it over to one of the captains to be stowed until the meal was over and he would reclaim it and slowly make his way out.

It got me to thinking about courage and style and grace. Here was this incredibly wealthy old gent in his 90s who could have stayed home at the apartment and been waited on by butlers and maids and chefs and have the rich and powerful and fascinating of this world come to lunch at his place and dance attendance on him. No. Instead he pushed that bloody walker right all the way across the floor of the Grill Room day after day while other celebrated people watched and nodded and said hello.

A proud man who was without vanity.

The pride came with still getting out every day and going to lunch and not staying home because it would be easier; the not-being-vain consisted of the very same thing while not being self-conscious about the walker or showing his age or any other damned thing.

He's gone now and the day his obit ran, his table was taken by some other folks having lunch. I think Mr. Loeb would have approved. You don't leave empty tables; you leave memories.

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