As the coronavirus pandemic continues, families across the U.S. are still losing loved ones. The victims include beloved television host Sonny Fox, nurse Iris Meda, musical director James Glica-Hernandez, Chicago basketball coach Donnie Kirksey and alumni coordinator Stephanie Smith. Anthony Mason profiles them in the series Lives to Remember.
- A milestone that seemed nearly unthinkable just a year ago-- no one projected it. Candles at Washington National Cathedral burned as the US marked 500,000 deaths from the coronavirus. Last night, President Biden led a vigil at the White House including a moment of silence to mourn those who are no longer here. It was the first such event at the White House. Flags will be flown at half staff until sunset on Friday.
ANTHONY MASON: Since the beginning of this pandemic, our "Lives to Remember" series has been serving as a reminder of what this pandemic has taken from families and communities nationwide. This morning, we're sharing the stories of five of the remarkable people we've lost.
ANTHONY MASON (VOICEOVER): Sunny Fox was a beloved television host.
SONNY FOX: Would you like to have your own television show?
- That's what I want to do.
SONNY FOX: That-- you want your own television Show?
ANTHONY MASON (VOICEOVER): He hosted "Wonderama" every Sunday morning on New York's WNEW from 1959 to '67. The four-hour kids show had no budget, Fox would say. So he made TV magic with his guests and with the kids themselves.
SONNY FOX: Which one?
- 5 ball.
SONNY FOX: 5 ball into this pocket?
ANTHONY MASON (VOICEOVER): Fox's easygoing charm captivated a generation of New York City children. He went on to be a game show host, and later, a producer and network executive. A pioneering broadcaster, Fox was not a comic like most kids show hosts. "For them, the kids were the audience," he said. "For me, the kids were the show." Sunny Fox was 95.
Iris Meda worked as a registered nurse for 35 years. Born in South Carolina, Meda grew up poor and practically raised her five siblings. She dropped out of high school, but later, inspired by her husband, earned her GED and pursued a nursing degree. She became the first person in her family to graduate from college with honors.
Iris loved dancing, sewing, true crime shows, and her grandkids.
- (SINGING): You make me feel--
ANTHONY MASON (VOICEOVER): She stopped working early last year, but bravely came out of retirement during the pandemic to teach nursing students at a local college. "It created a fire in her," said her daughter Seleen Meda-Schlemiel. "She fearlessly went to the front lines to do her part." Iris Meda was 70.
James Glica-Hernandez was a mental health advocate and a musical director at California's Woodland Opera House for more than two decades.
- [SINGING NOTES]
JAMES GLICA-HERNANDEZ: That was so open, I could feel the gravitational pull.
ANTHONY MASON (VOICEOVER): His life's purpose was about building people up, said his friend Amy Schumann. He had so much pride in his family and his students.
JAMES GLICA-HERNANDEZ: I love to be surprised, and the kids always surprise me. That's my favorite part of the show.
ANTHONY MASON (VOICEOVER): In December, during his battle with COVID, James posted several updates from the hospital.
JAMES GLICA-HERNANDEZ: Your love and support make all the difference in the world.
ANTHONY MASON (VOICEOVER): James died a few weeks later with his husband David by his side. James Glica-Hernandez was 61.
Donnie Kirksey was a staple in the Chicago basketball scene for 40 years. He coached at every level of the game and was a mentor and a father figure to hundreds of athletes, including former NBA player and Michigan basketball coach Juwan Howard.
JUWAN HOWARD: We lost a loved one and a guy that had a huge imprint on my life and helped me to be the man I am today.
ANTHONY MASON (VOICEOVER): Donnie's family remembered him as the king of practical jokes, but also a man of humility and integrity. His wife Dione said, "I was living every woman's dreams. He was the love of my life." Donnie Kirksey was 57.
Stephanie Smith was an alumni coordinator at her alma mater, South Plains College.
STEPHANIE SMITH: When you set your roots in good, old Levelland, Texas, you know you have a solid foundation.
ANTHONY MASON (VOICEOVER): She had a photography business on the side and volunteered for Operation Baby Watch, caring for hospitalized foster children. Her father, Sunny, said, "She poured her heart and soul into her work. And her laugh was the loudest one in the house."
STEPHANIE SMITH: [LAUGHING]
ANTHONY MASON (VOICEOVER): Because of the pandemic, Stephanie and her fiancee, Jamie Bassitt, were planning a small November wedding. She posted, "All that matters is that I get to marry my best friend, no matter how it looks or how it happens." But the week of their wedding, Stephanie tested positive for the coronavirus. She died five days after they were supposed to exchange their vows.
Jamie said, "The thing I loved about her is any feeling a person feels, she would feel 10 times harder. She head, a big heart." Stephanie Smith was 29.
ANTHONY MASON: Just five of 500,000 stories now-- I should note, South Plains College has established a scholarship in Stephanie's name. She spent a lot of time raising money for South Plains College for scholarships. So her parents feel she's continuing her work.
On one other note, I grew up watching Sunny Fox--
- Yeah, I'd never heard of him.
ANTHONY MASON: --and "Wonderama," yeah. And Dave Morris, who puts on our microphones every day, was actually in the studio audience of that show as a kid.
- Oh, my gosh.
ANTHONY MASON: Big show in New York City.
- COVID has taken--
ANTHONY MASON: Yeah.
- COVID-- Anthony, sorry for interrupting-- has taken so much from so many families. And it's amazing how connected you can feel to people you've never met. It's the way that his team-- your team picks out the-- the bites that are chosen, the facial expressions. You really do bring them to life. And these people were all dearly loved.
ANTHONY MASON: The families all give us all of these photographs and videos--
ANTHONY MASON: --you can tell.
- So beautifully done.
ANTHONY MASON: They appreciate that their-- their folks are being honored.
- With just a few sentences, 30 seconds or a minute of remembrance, their whole lives come back to you. If you were to do that with all 500,000 people who died, it would take a year--
ANTHONY MASON: Yeah.
- --to watch the whole thing.
- I'm so sorry you never run out of material.
ANTHONY MASON: No.
- That's-- that's the unfortunate part of this story.
ANTHONY MASON: Hopefully, this-- these stories will end someday.