On the shoulders of giants

The last couple of weeks, with the passing of some truly influential people, have reminded us of just how much difference one person can make in the world.

The death of California entrepreneur and tech-design genius Steve Jobs at only 56 has received the lion’s share of attention; every time we wiggle a mouse or set up an iPod playlist, we can thank him for the vision to make computing and computer technology not just user-friendly, but well-designed.

But the same day, the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, 89, also died. Perhaps the best epitaph for this tireless civil-rights activist would be the words that Birmingham, Ala., Commissioner of Public Safety Theophilus “Bull” Connor said to him: “Shuttlesworth, you have caused more trouble than any man who’s ever been in Birmingham.”

Finally, on National Coming Out Day, Frank Kameny died at the age of 86. Kameny, a World War II vet who earned a Ph.D. in astronomy from Harvard University, was fired by the federal government in 1960 because he was gay. But he did something unexpected: He sued for unfair termination, joined others to form the first major gay-rights organization, the Mattachine Society, and even picketed at federal buildings—including the White House.

As we see more and more people standing up to make change in the world and daring to try new approaches to business, technology and the arts, let us remember that each generation has its giants, and they always stand on the shoulders of giants.