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Remembering 5 extraordinary Americans who lost their lives to COVID-19

We are now into the second year of this global pandemic and since it began more than 530,000 Americans have died from COVID-19. As we do every week, we take a moment to share the lives of five extraordinary people lost to this virus.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We are now into the second year of this global pandemic. And since it began, more than 530,000 Americans have died from COVID-19.

    As we do every week, we pause to share with you the lives of five extraordinary people lost to this virus.

    Jose Antonio Martinez would do anything for his wife, Maria Josefa Martinez, their daughter told us. They were both born in Camaguey, Central Cuba, and both went by nicknames, Pepe and Josie. They married in 1961 and started their family while in Cuba. But before long, Pepe had to work in a forced labor camp.

    So, in 1971, the family fled the Castro regime and went to the U.S. on a Freedom Flight. They started from scratch in New Orleans, taking night classes to learn English. Josie worked as a cleaner, and then a teacher, and prepared children for holy communion on Sundays. Pepe ran an auto parts store, and loved baseball and Elvis.

    Their daughter said they were never happier than when they were feeding family and friends at their home. After 58 years of marriage, they died 16 days apart. Josie was 78 and Pepe was 79.

    Tom Church had a thirst for knowledge as deep as the oceans, he studied, his brother said. His work as an oceanographer took him around the world, but he always made time to soak up the local culture. He lived on a farm in Delaware with his family. As a young boy, Tom had polio, and had to learn to walk again, his brother told us.

    During his recovery, he developed what would be a lifelong love of music, playing both the piano and trumpet. Tom was 78.

    Antoine Hodge's friends and colleagues described him as a gentle giant with a nurturing spirit. His bass baritone voice filled churches and opera houses alike, and he would sing whenever and wherever he had the chance. He was a prolific performer, from King Balthazar in "Amahl and the Night Visitors" in Fort Collins, Colorado, to his recent chorus role in "Porgy and Bess" at New York's Metropolitan Opera.

    Friends of the 38-year-old said Antoine gave the best hugs and encouraged them to dream big.

    Music and laughter echoed through every home Constance Gaylord Rial Matthews (ph) ever lived in, her daughter told us. She spent her early years in Western New York, and studied music, theater and sociology. She married just after World War II and had four children.

    She loved traveling the world and visited every continent except Antarctica. But Chicago became her home, where volunteering, opera, and art were her passions. Constance remarried late in life and loved nothing more, until her passing at age 97, than to be surrounded by her new extended family.

    Our thanks to family and friends for sharing these stories with us. Our hearts go out to you, as they do to everyone who's lost a loved one in this pandemic.

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