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Remembering Henry Morgenthau III, Whose Poetry Debut Came At Age 99

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, HOST:

As this year draws to a close, we want to take a moment to remember someone we've lost. When Henry Morgenthau III visited WEEKEND EDITION last year, he came to us as a recently published poet at age 100.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

HENRY MORGENTHAU III: (Reading) A voluntary inmate immured in a last resort for seniors - there are constant reminders the reaper is lurking around the corner. I'm at home - very much at home - here at Ingleside at Rock Creek, distant three miles from my caring daughter. At Ingleside, a faith-based community for vintage Presbyterians, I'm an old Jew. But that's another story.

ELLIOTT: That's the title poem from his collection "A Sunday In Purgatory." Morgenthau died at that home for seniors he wrote about back in July. He knew it was probably his last stop, and he felt pretty good about it. He wrote (reading) anticipation of death is simply like looking for a new job.

Morgenthau came from a remarkable family. His grandfather was a U.S. ambassador under President Woodrow Wilson, and his father was Treasury secretary for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. But he had a distinguished career of his own. He won Peabody and Emmy Awards for television programming during the early days of public television in Boston. He worked with Eleanor Roosevelt on the series "Prospects Of Mankind."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PROSPECTS OF MANKIND")

ELEANOR ROOSEVELT: The image of the United States abroad. Until then, au revoir.

ELLIOTT: And he featured one-on-one interviews with James Baldwin, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1963 program "The Negro And The American Promise."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE NEGRO AND THE AMERICAN PROMISE")

MARTIN LUTHER KING JR: Everybody talks about nonviolence and being faithful to it and being dignified in your resistance.

ELLIOTT: But it was his last career as a poet that surprised and delighted him. His poems were anthologized, and the former poet laureate Billy Collins was a fan. Morgenthau counted poetry as a comfort when we asked him back in 2017 about death and what came next.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

MORGENTHAU: I think about it, but I've had more than my time, and it's not something that frightens me and actually getting it out on paper is a relief.

ELLIOTT: Henry Morgenthau III died at age 101 in July. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.