What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

On Thanksgiving, remembering those we’ve lost due to COVID-19

On this Thanksgiving Day, tens of thousands of our friends and neighbors have one less person at the table because of COVID-19. It is this pandemic, and the devastation it has wrought in this country, that makes this holiday so different for all of us. Judy Woodruff takes an extended look back at just some of the more than 260,000 Americans lost so far to COVID-19.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Amna Nawaz:

    On this Thanksgiving day, tens of thousands of our friends and neighbors have one less person at the table. Over a quarter-of-a-million Americans have died from the coronavirus this year.

    Every Friday since March, the "NewsHour" has brought you a short segment, In Memoriam, as a way to honor some of those whose lives were cut short.

    As part of that process, families, friends and colleagues in the midst of their own grieving have generously shared with us favorite memories and family pictures and heartwarming videos of the loved one they lost, so that we could then put names and faces and stories to this enormous tragedy.

    And so, tonight, we want to devote considerable time, not just to note the undeniable impact COVID-19 has had on our country, but also to express our gratitude to all those who shared their time and their memories with us this year, so we could help remember those who died.

    Here now is Judy Woodruff with an extended look back at some of the Americans we have lost so far to the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Eighty-four-year-old Mary Roman overcame childhood polio to win some 350 track and field medals, including at the Senior Olympics.

    When she wasn't on the track, she was on the sidelines, cheering on her five boys and grandchildren in the same sport. Roman was a local celebrity in Norwalk, Connecticut, not just for her athleticism, but for her decades-long career as a city clerk.

    Aldo Bazzarelli perfected each item on his namesake restaurant's menu, from butchering his own meats to preparing his homemade marinara sauce. Raised in Southern Italy, he was a born entrepreneur. He ran a barbershop as a child, before immigrating to the United States in 1968.

    In his nearly 50 years running Bazzarelli's, he never fired an employee. The 73-year-old is remembered for his big heart, especially when it came to his five grandchildren.

    April Dunn of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was a driven advocate for those with disabilities. Denied a high school diploma of her own, April helped state lawmakers pass a bill that allowed students with disabilities to receive their degrees, and went on to work closely with the governor. Kind, outgoing, sociable, April was a great source of pride for her family. She was just 33.

    Sean Boynes, once a captain in the U.S. Air Force, was a pharmacist dedicated to serving his Maryland clients. Sean received three degrees from Howard University, where he played football, mentored pharmacy students, and married his bride, Nicole, on campus. Funny and joyful, it was Sean's smile that caught Nicole's heart.

    For Sierra and Gabrielle, their father was their comforter and cheerleader. He was 46 years old.

    Vincent Lionti, a violist with the New York Metropolitan Opera for 33 years, was known for his quiet confidence, humility and kindness. Vincent's first teacher was his father, Victor, who conducted the Westchester Youth Symphony Orchestra, before passing the baton to Vincent in 1997.

    Vincent met his wife, Kristin, in the Met cafeteria, and their family grew by one, Nicholas. Vincent would have turned 61 this month.

    Judy Wilson-Griffin dedicated her life to helping high-risk mothers and babies as a perinatal nurse specialist in Saint Louis, Missouri. An educator and a leader, Judy addressed racial disparities in maternal health care and access to care. To her colleagues and patients, she was like a best friend, a sister, funny, humble, and gracious.

    Judy also served in the U.S. Navy as a nurse. She was 63.

    Tommy Lopez was known to Seattleites as the smiling face behind this family-owned food truck for almost two decades. Born in Mexico, the father of five served in the military there, before immigrating to the U.S. when he was 24. He made national headlines in 2017 for selling tacos to hungry drivers stranded in a massive interstate traffic jam.

    He was 44 years old.

    Seventy-four-year-old Wayne Reese Sr. was a quiet man anywhere but on the football field. He coached and mentored Louisiana high school football players for five decades. Some went on to play in the NFL, including one Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk.

    From driving them to 6:00 a.m. practice, and helping hundreds secure college scholarships, his family says his shoulders were broad from always carrying the worries of others.

    Captain Douglas Hickok was a member of the New Jersey National Guard Medical Unit specializing in emergency medicine. Described by his family as fearless, Hickok had prepared to help with the pandemic's spread before he was infected. Off-duty, the 57-year-old was an avid outdoorsman, grill master and father of two.

    A third-generation service member, Captain Hickok was the U.S. military's first loss to the pandemic.

    Robbin Hardy became a pastor when she was 25 years old and served as vice president of her church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Her children remember a unifier, both in church and as the founder of a mentorship program for girls, where they say she reached more than 1,000 women, and did so in style.

    Hardy was 56 years old.

    Pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. James Goodrich of New York's Montefiore Medical Center garnered international acclaim for successfully separating 10 twins conjoined at the head, and advising dozens of other such surgeries. Outside the operating room, the 73-year-old was a bonsai tree enthusiast. He had a library of rare antique medical books and was an avid player of the Australian aboriginal instrument the didgeridoo.

    His friends dubbed him the most interesting man in the world.

    Vitalina Williams loved gardening and cooking with her husband in Salem, Massachusetts, when she wasn't working her two jobs at the local grocery store and Walmart. Bold and principled, Williams was known as the CEO and CFO of her family. She came to the United States from Guatemala in the 1990s, and spoke to her family there on the phone every day.

    She was 59 years old.

    Sixty-one-year-old Quinsey Simpson, a correctional officer at New York's Rikers Island, was known for his calm demeanor, great sense of humor, and hard work ethic. When he contracted COVID-19, Quinsey called in sick for only the second time in his 18 years on the job.

    He was a mentor to the basketball players he coached, neighborhood school kids, and his 6-year-old son, Ayden.

    Karen Ketcher dedicated her career to serving Native American tribes in her state of Oklahoma and across the country. Karen loved to sew, including memorable prom and wedding dresses, and spent all of her free time with her family, her grandkids and great grandkids.

    In Tahlequah's Cherokee Nation, she was known as everyone's Granny Karen for loving everyone in the community like they were her own.

    She was 70 years old.

    Philip Kahn always carried his military photos with him, so he could tell his story. An Air Force co-pilot in World War II, Kahn was in the Battle of Iwo Jima and helped take aerial surveys of the damage wrought by the atomic bombs.

    After the war, he settled in New York and was an electrical foreman on the construction of the World Trade Center. More devastating than the war, Philip often said, was the Spanish Flu pandemic, which killed his twin brother in infancy. Philip was 100 years old.

    Lysa Dawn Robinson never went anywhere without a set of drumsticks. Known to fans as Lady Rhythm, the Philadelphia-born drummer toured the world with soul singer Billy Paul and played with many more artists, including Pink. Lysa was a go-to source for advice for her two sisters and nieces, who describe her as witty, charming, and a good listener. She was 55 years old.

    For activist Josepha Eyre, her desire to help displaced refugees was largely inspired by her upbringing in Nazi-occupied Holland. In 1989 Josepha, or Jossy, founded the Women's Bean Project in Denver, Colorado, to create long-term solutions for homeless women through work and counseling.

    Over the years, she welcomed people in need into her own family. She was active and tenacious, an inspiration to her children and grandchildren. Jossy was 89 years old.

    Fifty-year-old Bobby Pin was known for his blue hair and infectious energy. Photography and filmmaking took Bobby around the world. He took photos at Burning Man festivals and filmed in Nepal and India, making countless friends along the way.

    A perfectionist, Bobby excelled in more than just art. He was also a scuba diver, completing over 150 dives. Last year, he made one special trip to Cambodia, where he was born. Bobby's family fled the country during the Pol Pot dictatorship, when he was 5 years old.

    Fashionable, talented and full of curiosity, Chianti Jackson Harpool lit up every room, from political fund-raisers to girls nights with friends. A Baltimore native, Chianti worked as a social worker for the homeless, before launching her dream business, Chianti's Charm City Chocolates, inspired by her father's mobile candy truck. She was 51 years old.

    Valentina Blackhorse dreamed of one day leading Navajo Nation. Born and raised in Kayenta, Arizona, Valentina participated in Native American pageants, where she demonstrated her deep knowledge and affinity for Navajo culture, skills, and language. Quiet, warm, and caring, Valentina was dedicated to passing on her culture to younger generations, including her 1-year-old daughter. She was just 28 years old.

    Arlene Saunders was as captivating as her soprano opera voice. Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Arlene spent most of her career in Germany, performing with the Hamburg State Opera on stage and on television. She would go on to sing at the biggest opera house in the world, The Met.

    Down-to-earth and elegant, Arlene moved to New York in 1986, where she married the man she loved to dance and sing with, Raymond Raskin. Arlene was 89 years old.

    Abdelfattah Abdrabbo was often the first person at his Canton, Michigan, mosque arriving at 4:00 in the morning to lead the sunrise prayer. A Palestinian immigrant, Abe arrived in the U.S. in the 1970s with close to nothing.

    Devoted, tireless and hardworking, he worked overtime and on holidays to build his import-export business, always with a smile on his face. His six children say he gave them the American dream. He was 65 years old.

    Hailey Herrera was nurturing and compassionate, the first person her friends called for comfort and advice. The 25-year-old Bronx native was working to become a therapist. She helped care for people with mental illnesses and earned a master's degree in marriage and family therapy. Her mom says she was a ball of energy and a joy to be around.

    Hailey loved throwing themed parties and making memories with her friends and family.

    Ralph Pabon had an eye for fashion and a spirit of adventure. Both came through in the bridal gowns he designed in New York City. When his beloved mother remarried in 2014, Ralph walked her down the aisle. She wore the wedding dress he designed.

    Gregarious and fun, Ralph loved that his most recent work as a flight attendant allowed him to explore the world. He was 51 years old.

    Eighty-two-year-old Patrick Petit's family dubbed him the family philosopher, a nod to his ability to listen and offer advice. After serving in the Navy, he became a community organizer during the civil rights movement, taught sociology at a university in Minneapolis and raised three children.

    His last words were a message to his grandkids: "Be happy, be kind and keep learning."

    Ann Sullivan brought cartoons to life as a painter for animation studios, including Disney and Hanna-Barbera. Among the characters she helped create were the Smurfs. The North Dakota native loved to paint landscapes of the California coast and portraits of her children and grandchildren.

    Her daughter says Ann exuded positivity and that, when she laughed, she did so with her whole body. Ann was 91 years old.

    Dosha Joi was colorful, his friends say. He had a smile and energy that could brighten a dark room. After aging out of foster care, Dosha, or DJay, fought to better the system, particularly for foster kids in the LGBTQ community. It was a mission that took him from his home state of Wisconsin to advocate on Capitol Hill.

    DJay was also a certified nursing assistant studying to become a registered nurse. He was 28 years old.

    Hatsy Yasukochi was the heart of her family-run bakery in San Francisco. She knew her customers by name, and often their orders by heart. A proud mother and grandmother, Hatsy displayed family photos on the bakery walls and loved taking silly Snapchats with her five grandchildren.

    As a young girl, Hatsy's family was imprisoned in internment camps during the Second World War. Her daughters say that experience gave her the perseverance she would later rely on to battle cancer. She was 80 years old.

    Susan Rokus was a beloved elementary school teacher in Loudoun County, Virginia, for almost five decades. A woman of faith, friends say Susan was respectful and truthful, qualities she instilled in her young students. She was particularly skilled at helping children overcome challenges with reading through empathy and positivity.

    Susan also loved tea time with friends, tennis and fashion. She was 73 years old.

    Hecky Powell was often referred to as the unofficial mayor of Evanston, Illinois. For 37 years, he ran Hecky's Barbecue. Their famous sauce was created by him and his parents. Hecky employed kids from all walks of life, and that commitment extended beyond his restaurant, to his social work, providing opportunities for struggling youth. The 71-year-old was also a loving father of seven.

    Anyone who knew Loretta Dionisio could see she was tough. Loretta fled martial law in the Philippines in her early 20s and rose to become a graphic designer and creative director in Orlando, Florida. A cancer survivor, she traveled the world with her husband of nearly 50 years. The pair were inseparable.

    Around her family, Loretta's toughness melted away. They say she was the sweetest person. Loretta was 68 years old.

    Ninety-two-year-old Theodore Gaffney was a researcher and documentarian who brought great curiosity to his work. After serving in the U.S. Army following World War II, Theodore studied photography under the G.I. Bill. The Washington, D.C., native was one of the first African-Americans to photograph inside of the White House.

    In 1961, he documented the Freedom Riders as they traveled through the South to fight segregation. Theodore later moved to Brazil to study the African diaspora. It was there that he met his wife, Maria.

    Jess Begay Sr. of the Navajo Nation was a long-haul trucker who transported everything from explosives to milk. He taught others how to drive commercially, including his own daughter, Leslyn. She said her dad was humble and always open to learning more. He still referred to himself as a rookie, even as a 25-year veteran in the trucking industry.

    His family described Jess as dedicated, prayerful, and loving. He was 73 years old.

    Mary Wilson had a way with animals. She was 23 when she started working at the Maryland Zoo, and went on to become the first black woman to be promoted to senior zookeeper. Mary was a mother figure to many, including an orphan gorilla named Sylvia. Mary continued to visit Sylvia even after she left the Maryland Zoo. Sylvia always remembered her.

    Mary's dedication to her work inspired her daughter Sharron to become a zookeeper too. Mary was 83.

    Rene Chavez had big dreams and an active imagination, said his wife, Annette. Passionate about the animated "He-Man" series from the '80s, Rene launched a successful podcast called "Nerds on a Couch," where he and his friends discussed, debated and reviewed comics. Rene even drafted his own sci-fi stories.

  • Rene Chavez :

    Hello, Rene from "Nerds on a Couch" here.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    As a high school English teacher in El Paso, Rene would often loan his comics to students to encourage them to read more. Rene was 45 years old.

    Reverend Vickey Gibbs' final sermon at her Houston church was an impassioned call to action on coronavirus relief and racial injustice.

  • Vickey Gibbs:

    Be the bridge to equality by demanding and voting in change.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Spreading love and fighting for justice, these were Vickey's callings, said her wife, Cassandra, whether that meant attending protests or cooking meals for friends in need. She had a special bond with her grandson, who she nicknamed Boo. Together, they listened on repeat to "My Cherie Amour" by Stevie Wonder. Vickey was 57.

    N.S. Ramamurthy, or Rama to those who knew him, was a pioneering research scientist at Stony Brook's School of Dental Medicine. The work of his team led to important discoveries in oral health and antibiotics. Born in South India, and before settling in New York, Rama moved to Canada in 1966, where he met his wife of nearly 50 years, Sharon, in a biochemistry class.

    Described as gregarious, with a passion for South Asian arts, Rama was devoted to his students and his family, including two daughters and five grandchildren. Rama was 80 years old.

    Cynthia Tilley's friends joked that her hair was as big as her heart. The former nurse was constantly organizing community fund-raisers and charity events in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Christmas was her favorite holiday. She spoiled everyone around her, from her two children, to her two granddaughters, who called her Gigi.

    At 61, Cynthia was still the star of any dance floor, especially when performing the shag.

    Until she was 7 years old, Tatiana Moore barely spoke, but she went on to become a talented singer in her Buffalo, New York, theater group. Tatiana loved working with children. She ran a before- and after-school program, mentored young performers, and helped care for kids with special needs.

    Tatiana was the first in her family to graduate college, and planned to go back to school to become a social worker. Her kind, patient demeanor earned her the nickname the Peacekeeper. Tatiana was 22 years old.

    Fareeda Kadwani was a lifelong educator, teaching kids at New York public schools for 20 years. After moving to the Bronx from Mumbai, India, in 1984, Fareeda volunteered her time as a tutor for neighborhood kids, who said she was a constant guidance.

    Her daughter said she was outgoing and the life of the party, and those who met her felt like they had known her for years. Fareeda was 75.

    Jennifer Robin Arnold was creative, fun, and a little outrageous. A friend called her a live wire. Jennifer was born into a family of dancers in New York City. In her 20s, she toured through Europe and South America as a professional dancer.

    She went on to help make costumes and work backstage on Broadway's "Phantom of the Opera" as a dresser for more than 30 years. A lover of Coney Island, Jennifer was 67 years old.

    After long days working as a registered nurse, Joshua Obra often retreated to the Happiest Place on Earth, Disneyland. His photographs of the park posted on Instagram under the account Disneylandpanda earned him more than 20,000 followers.

    As a child in Gardena, California, Josh begged his parents for a sister. He eventually got his wish in Jasmine. They were eight years apart, but inseparable. Josh was 29 years old.

    Forty-eight-year-old Abraham Martin Vega of Texas will be remembered as a peacemaker, his daughter Cori said. At the age of 19, Abraham entered law enforcement and worked his way up to being elected Lynn County sheriff in 2016. Cori said that anyone who came in contact with her father instantly felt his affection, whether at Sunday church services or the grocery store.

    A husband, father and grandfather, Abraham's family was his pride and joy.

    Lilian Teret was a fighter, her daughter said. Born in Guatemala, Lilian came to the United States at 22 years old. Life wasn't easy. She woke up at 3:00 in the morning to start working, often taking on two or more jobs to support her two children.

    For 20 years, she worked in a Los Angeles County middle school cafeteria, beloved by the teachers and students for her cheerfulness. Lilian was 54 years old.

    Sixty-two-year-old James Mahoney was described by his sister as a supportive father of three and a caring doctor. He went by Charlie. And when his desire to play professional baseball didn't pan out, he turned to medicine. Charlie spent more than three decades serving his students and patients in Brooklyn, most recently as a critical care specialist for two hospitals.

    His sister said Charlie was quiet growing up, but was outgoing with his patients.

    Larry Kelly taught American government to high school seniors in Miami for 32 years. When they turned 18, he made sure every student registered to vote. A lover of books and learning, Larry never wanted to leave the classroom. He taught summer school and led field trips to the courthouse and Washington, D.C.

    When he eventually retired, the 78-year-old worked at the local library. Quiet, but witty and hilarious to those who knew him best, Larry loved cheering on his home teams in New Orleans with his daughters and granddaughters.

    Nursing was more than a job to 62-year-old Patricia Edwards. She wore old-fashioned scrubs to the intensive care unit in Greenville, South Carolina where she worked. Nurse Pat was one of the first in line to treat COVID patients.

    She was fearless, even when battling cancer herself, and made those around her feel safe, her daughter said. Thanksgiving was Pat's favorite holiday. She spent the day in the kitchen, blasting old school R&B with her five children and 13 grandchildren.

    Growing up in El Salvador, Jose Mardoqueo Reyes was fascinated by radio. He went on to become a radio show host in Washington, D.C., where he combined his love for broadcast and sports. Jose often announced local games for his Spanish-speaking listeners.

    His daughter described Jose's personality as infectious, straightforward and funny. A beloved husband, father to five, and grandfather, Jose was 54 years old.

    Robert Mata spent 20 years as a truck driver before his life was turned upside down. After suffering a stroke in his 40s, the Army veteran moved next door to his daughter in Austin, Texas, where he made a career out of the highlight of his day, walking his grandchildren to school.

    For the next 17 years, as a crossing guard, he made sure everyone got to elementary school safely. Family was everything to Robert, his daughter said. The 67-year-old never missed his grandkids' baseball games or cheerleading meets.

    Margie Kidd was in her 40s when she went back to school to become a teacher. She had a gift for holding the attention of her kindergartners and first-graders in Ridgeland, South Carolina, and regularly said that learning should always be fun.

    She'd wake up early, by 6:00 a.m. each day, and send silly memes to her daughters and grandchildren, along with messages of love and advice.

  • Margie Kidd:

    Just remember what I taught you. To become a better woman, you must believe in yourself, you must do better, and you will — must help others.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Margie was 71 years old.

    Growing up in LaFayette, New York, Adeline Fagan loved to pretend she was a doctor. Fast-forward to medical school. The sociable student made it a point to meet all 144 of her classmates. She traveled to Haiti on outreach trips and, driven by her love for babies, surgery, and education, became an OB-GYN resident in Houston.

    One of four girls, her parents said that Adeline was the mischief maker and had a silly streak. A best friend to her sisters, Adeline was 28 years old.

    Mario Aranda's life work was to empower people, his family said. Raised Mormon in Chihuahua, Mexico, Mario immigrated to Utah in 1959, where he met his wife of three decades. His work in linguistics then took him to Chicago, where he advocated for Latinos and promoted bilingual education.

    His marriage ended in the 1990s, and, in Berkeley, California, Mario found love a second time. He and his partner had 20 years together. The spiritual father of seven enjoyed hiking, swimming, meditating, and, like his mom, he was a voracious reader. Mario was 79.

    Those who knew 69-year-old David D. Swart Sr. described him as a simple man who worked hard every day for his family and friends. A lifelong resident of Upstate New York, he served as a lieutenant and 30-year veteran of the Amsterdam Fire Department.

    When he wasn't putting out fires, he was making hot dogs at his restaurant, Dave's Dawgs, and devoting time to his family. His son said Dave loved big and was a first responder in both work and spirit, always showing up for those in need.

    Saludacion Solon Fontanilla grew up in the Philippines wanting to go into medicine. In 1993, Saludacion, or Sally, moved to California to work in nursing. For more than two decades, Sally was a bedside nurse at St. Mary Medical Center, where her husband also worked. The two were high school friends in the Philippines and married in 2000.

    Described by her husband as sweet and laid back, Sally was 51 years old.

    Jim Goulding served as a United Methodist chaplain, professor, and dean over his three decades at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Illinois. Jim continued teaching even in retirement. After the 9/11 attacks, he created courses on Islam to foster dialogue and understanding of the religion in Madison, Wisconsin.

    Jim also led Sunday school classes and enjoyed traveling with his wife of 51 years. A beloved father and grandfather, Jim was 83 years old.

    Emergency room doctor Juan Fitz practiced medicine for 34 years. He cared for his patients at his hospital in Lubbock, Texas, like they were family, said his daughter. A gregarious jokester, his daughter said her dad's laughter would fill a room and that he was the type of person who would give you the shirt off his back.

    Despite his hectic schedule, Juan, a father and grandfather, always managed to make time for his family, from softball games to ski trips. Juan was 67 years old.

    Seventeen-year-old Elvia Ramirez, or Rose to friends, had big plans for life after high school, among them, college, an engagement to her longtime boyfriend, and a trip to Disneyland with her younger siblings.

    Curious and creative, Rose loved learning about her family's Native American history and culture in North Dakota, and spent lots of her free time drawing. She also had a silly side on full display on her social media, where she enlisted her brothers, sisters and friends in dances and lip syncs.

    Ray and Joan Connery first met in the summer of 1953.

  • Joan Connery:

    There was I was on Craigville Beach in Hyannis minding my own business with four of my friends. Just happened to run into Ray.

  • Ray Connery:

    There were exciting looking woman.

  • Joan Connery:

    What made you talk to me?

  • Ray Connery:

    You looked like you had money.


  • Judy Woodruff:

    Ray served in the Navy during the Second World War. When he returned he became a Rhode Island State Trooper. Joan was a dietitian. They married within a year of meeting and raised five children together.

    Both had a passion for bettering the community. Joan started a literacy program at the Providence Hospital and advocated for better union contracts and teacher pay. Ray served 10 years on the town council.

    They traveled the world together, but were equally happy at home, hosting dinners with their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They passed within 22 days of each other, both 93 years old.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And we are so grateful to everyone who shared those stories with us this year.

    Our thoughts are with you and your families.

Listen to this Segment