Obituary Listings

Anne Miller, 90, First Patient Who Was Saved by Penicillin
By Wolfgang Saxon, courtesy of The New York Times

June 9, 1999 - Anne Sheafe Miller, who made medical history as the first patient ever saved by penicillin, died on May 27 in Salisbury, Conn. She was 90.

In March 1942, Mrs. Miller was near death at New Haven Hospital suffering from a streptococcal infection, a common cause of death then. She had been hospitalized for a month, often delirious with her temperature spiking to nearly 107, while doctors tried everything available, including sulfa drugs, blood transfusions and surgery. All failed.

As she slipped in and out of consciousness, her desperate doctors obtained a tiny amount of what was still an obscure, experimental drug and injected her with it. Her hospital chart, now at the Smithsonian Institution, registered a sharp overnight drop in temperature, and by the next day she was no longer delirious and soon was eating full meals, one of her doctors reported.

Mrs. Miller's life was saved, and so eventually were the lives of all those previously felled by infections of bacteria like streptococci, staphylococci and pneumococci. Penicillin also saved the lives of an untold number of servicemen and civilians wounded in World War II; in earlier wars, people died by the thousands from bacterial infections resulting from their injuries.

Although Sir Alexander Fleming, the Scottish biologist, was the first to recognize the therapeutic potential of penicillin through a chance discovery at St. Mary's Hospital in London in 1928, nearly a dozen years passed before scientists fully appreciated its significance and were able to produce it for experimental use in humans.

Largely forgotten, it came to the fore only when researchers picked up on it again at Oxford University at the outbreak of World War II.

Before Mrs. Miller's doctors succeeded in saving her life, only a few experiments had been conducted with penicillin in mice and people, with results mixed and largely disheartening.

The small quantity of penicillin rushed to New Haven came from a laboratory in New Jersey, and news of Mrs. Miller's full, seemingly miraculous recovery helped inspire the American pharmaceutical industry to begin full production of penicillin.

A native New Yorker, Mrs. Miller graduated in 1931 from Columbia Presbyterian School of Nursing, now part of Columbia University. The next year, she married Ogden D. Miller, a Yale University administrator. The family moved to Washington, Conn., in 1945, when Miller became headmaster of the Gunnery School, where he served until he retired in 1969. He died nine years later, and Mrs. Miller remained in Washington until 1996, when she moved to a retirement community in Salisbury.

She is survived by three sons, Ogden D. Jr., of Vienna, Va., David P., of Darlington, Md., and Dwight D., of Watertown, Mass.; a brother, Theodore H. Sheafe of Tigard, Ore.; a sister, Mary S. Jewett of Lyme, Conn.; six grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.

Sir Christopher Cockerell, Creator of the Hovercraft, Dies at 88
By Michael T. Kaufman, courtesy of The New York Times

June 4, 1999 - Sir Christopher Cockerell, the creator of the hovercraft, who often came to feel that invention was the mother of frustration, died on Tuesday at his home in Hythe, Hampshire, England. He was 88.

His daughter, Francis Airy, said he had been ill for several months after a fall, but had been mentally alert until the end. As quoted in The London Telegraph, Mrs. Airy said, "He was interested in the state of the world and was very worried about energy resources on the planet and the population explosion."

Cockerell had hundreds of patents to his name, including more than 50 associated with the hovercraft, which rides on a cushion of air. Since the launching of his first hovercraft, exactly 40 years before the day of his death, the technology that he made possible emerged from what seemed to be science fiction to become a common means of speedily ferrying passengers across bays and rivers around the world.

Although he received great recognition and knighthood, he consistently vented his frustration at the lack of rewards he gained. He also criticized British policies that he contended chronically thwarted technological development and discouraged inventions and inventors.

"I've enjoyed life," Cockerell said in an interview in 1996. "But it would have been nice to treat my wife to dinner once in a while." Actually, his patents for the hovercraft and other inventions did provide what he conceded was a reasonable living, but they did not make him rich.

Cockerell's penchant for tinkering was developed in the face of early rejections. His father, Sir Sydney Cockerell, curator of the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge University, was a strong figure who valued arts and letters above applied science. A collector of medieval manuscripts, Sydney Cockerell had been an assistant to the Bloomsbury polymath William Morris, was literary executor for Thomas Hardy and corresponded with Tolstoy.

He was not impressed when his only son produced crystal radio sets and motorized his mother's sewing machine. He was chagrined when Christopher, offered a choice of books as gifts, selected "The Boy Electrician" rather than a biography of Rembrandt. Once the father observed that his son was "no better than a garage hand." Despite such paternal discouragement, which slowly abated, Cockerell studied engineering at Cambridge.

In 1935, he began working on research for the Marconi Co.. Among his inventions was an aerial direction finder called "the drunken men," which in World War II brought many allied airmen safely back home.

His team at Marconi also produced the equipment that was used to identify all the German radar stations along the northern European coast, which were bombed in time for D-Day.

In 1996, Sir Christopher recalled that he had developed 36 patents at Marconi. "All I got was 10 for each (less than $50)," he said. "And mind you, some firms gave as little as 3 for the same."

He left in the early '50s and moved to Norfolk to manage a marina on the Oulton Broad. A passionate sailor, he lived in a trailer and designed cabin cruisers. It was there that he conceived the idea that even a heavy craft could be supported on a cushion of air generated by relatively small thrust. Cutting the friction between boat and water, or boat and marshland, would allow such a vessel to move swiftly. He ran a vacuum cleaner tube through an empty can of cat food that he had placed in a larger empty coffee can and when he turned the switch to reverse to blow air into the larger can, the smaller one hovered.

In 1955, he built a two-foot prototype that scooted at the end of a leash over water and land, and he obtained a patent for a vehicle that he described as "neither an airplane, nor a boat, nor a wheeled land craft." He named it a hovercraft.

There was little smooth sailing, however, as Cockerell sought to turn his idea into a commercial project. At one point he demonstrated his hovering prototype for British military officials who responded by classifying his invention as secret, effectively freezing development.

Cockerell pawned family jewelry to keep his research going, and in 1957, after he had advised government officials that the Swiss were working on hovering technologies, he was able to approach the National Research Development Corp., a government-financed agency that was supposed to promote inventions.

Two years later, the agency formed Hovercraft Development Ltd. to develop the concept for commercial use and solicit investment. Cockerell became a director and technical adviser.

Hovercraft Development licensed five companies to build hovercrafts. On June 1, 1959, a small one-person vehicle zipped across the English Channel in 20 minutes, four hours faster than conventional crossings. In the next three years, larger hovercraft built by contractors began to carry passengers.

In the mid-60s, as hovercraft began commercial service across the Channel, Cockerell found himself in disagreement with management decisions by the Research Development Corp. First he objected to a decision to license foreign companies, principally in the United States and Japan, allowing them to produce hovercraft in exchange for royalties.

That, he felt, only squandered Britain's advantage. He also opposed a directive in 1966 that fused all British hovercraft development in one amalgamated company. Saying that move hampered competition and would "stultify the hovercraft industry in Britain," Cockerell resigned from Hovercraft Development in protest.

Reflecting on the pitfalls of an inventor's life in Britain then, he wrote: "Everything is stacked against you, but for some reason some silly chaps seem to be driven to it (rather like a painter of a composer of music), which is perhaps just as well or we should still be living in the Stone Age. Some of the hovercraft saga was fun, but most of it was incredibly frustrating."

In 1969 he was knighted, and the next year the British hovercraft industry dismissed him as a consultant. He continued to lecture on the technology that he developed and conducted research at his home. His wife, Elinor Belsham, whom he married in 1937, died in 1996.

Remains May Be Those of Missing Musician

June 1, 1999 MALIBU, Calif. -- A skeleton found on Saturday in the wreckage of a minivan at the bottom of a 200-foot ravine may be that of a rock musician missing since 1995, the police said Monday.

The minivan, a 1993 Ford Aerostar, matches the description of a van driven by Philip Kramer, a former singer and bass player for Iron Butterfly, who was believed to be driving his van when he disappeared on Feb. 12, 1995.

Coroner's investigators have begun examining the remains, the authorities said, and no identity has been released.

A hiker discovered the skeleton late Saturday, but investigators were not able to recover the vehicle until daylight.

Kramer, known as Taylor, was 42 when he disappeared. He was last seen leaving to pick up a friend at Los Angeles International Airport.

He joined a reformed Iron Butterfly in 1975. The band, best known for its hit "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" in 1969, had several incarnations with various band members.

And here's the next set of more groovy obits...

  • Frank Pape, A Tough Chicago Cop, Dies at 91
  • John Morgan, British Fashion Snob, Dead At 41
  • Senor Wences, Ventriloquist Who Was a TV Regular, Dies At 103


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