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Memorializing 5 Americans lost to COVID-19

Each week, PBS NewsHour pauses to remember five Americans lost to the COVID-19 pandemic, and shares memories and highlights from their lives.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    While this week did bring hopeful signs for the end of the pandemic and an easing of some restrictions, hundreds of thousands of families, as we know, are still feeling the loss of a loved one over the past 15 months.

    We pause again to remember some of their stories.

    To some in Carrollton, Texas, he was Coach Mathews, while, to others, he was Mr. Mathews, or even school board President Mathews; 73-year-old John Mathews served his local school district for more than half-a-century, whether it was as a teacher, administrator, coach, or stadium announcer.

    He was so well-known in the community, it was as if more people knew him than didn't, his wife said. He was always a happy guy, and loved to meet people.

    Fifty-one-year-old Syvie Robertson brought her take-charge spirit every day to her work as a licensed practical nurse, her daughter told us. The Virginian and grandmother of four was one of several family members who worked in the medical field. It was work that she loved, her daughter added, even though it came with long hours some days, and more risks during the pandemic.

    Before Syvie died, she had been going back to school to add to her nursing credentials. Earlier this month, Syvie's college granted her an honorary degree posthumously.

    Fernando Abenoza got his first glimpse into the art of jewelry-making while growing up in Colombia. After he moved to the Los Angeles area in 1970, he made a living out of it. Jewelry was his life, his daughter said. She described sitting with him when she was a child as he designed and worked on pieces with great care and precision.

    He also loved tango music and tango dancing. But, above all, his daughter told us, Fernando loved to make people laugh and smile. He was 79 years old.

    Irene Cornish Thompson devoted her life to helping others overcome personal challenges or heal from trauma. For most of her career, Irene was a therapist in private practice. A longtime colleague told us that she had a particular skill for defusing situations and for connecting with everyone in a way that made them feel special.

    The 78-year-old California resident also loved to travel all over the world, her daughter said, and cherished time with her grandchildren.

    Bishop Omar Jahwar followed in his parents' footsteps, and, in the process, became a community leader in his own right. When his father retired as pastor of his Dallas church, Omar took over his ministry.

    The 47-year-old was also an activist, like his mother, launching efforts to curb violence in cities and encourage reforms to policing. When he died, he was on the cusp of launching a new restaurant that he had hoped would be a positive social hub for the community, his sister said. She is now at the helm to carry out his vision.

    And we are so grateful to family members for sharing these stories. Our hearts go out to you, as they do to everyone who has lost a loved one in this pandemic.

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