11 Inspiring Leaders We Lost in 2012


Last Updated on April 8, 2016

As we big farewell to another year and usher in the next one, it’s only fitting that we take a look back at some of the inspiring people who passed away this year. Their contributions and accomplishments stretch beyond their time on Earth; these select few drove innovation in the fields of art, design, style, business, and more.

Zig Ziglar

Do you want to turn your luck or your life around? Then Zig Ziglar was the man to listen to and heed his advice. He died last month at 86 years of age, but his message can still be found on promotional video and other materials. For over 40 years, Ziglar traveled around the world as a motivational speaker, instilling hope and change into unsuspecting patrons.

He spoke 150 times in one year, at $50,000 a speech. His followers credited Ziglar for more than just his positive attitude; he was funny and charming in a way that motivated others to want to emulate those traits.



Helen Gurley Brown


Brown’s “Sex and the Single Girl” shocked traditional thinkers in the 1960’s. She’d go on to become the editor of Cosmopolitan magazine. She died in August at 90. As editor of the magazine for over 30 years, Brown change the way women saw themselves, but arguably more importantly how people spoke about women in society.

She was always pushing the limits and opening up conversations about sex. Brown had a certain presence to her that let you know she was there, and she made the rounds at all the right parties. Whether she was a feminist or not is up for debate, but what’s clear is that she was ahead of her time.

Maurice Sendak


Many young children grew up on his books, and much of Maurice Sendak’s literature remains fan-favorites. He died in May at the age of 83. The artist brought together dark and beautiful imagery in more than a dozen picture books he wrote and illustrated. “Where the Wild Things Are,” which came out in 1963, is his most acclaimed work.

Earlier this year, Sendak published his first work in 30 years — it spent five weeks on the New York Times children’s best-seller list. It proved that Sendak’s unique style and voice cross generations.

Stephen Covey


This best-selling writer of self-help and business books was best known for his 1989 book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Restoring the Character Ethic.” He died in July at the age of 79. That book has sold more than 25 million copies worldwide, President Clinton once credited Covey with helping to rejuvenate the American workforce in the the 1990’s.

Covey, for his part, remained humble throughout, believing that he was just pushing people to do what they already knew. He encouraged good behavior to get the best results.


Carroll Shelby


This hot-rodder got so into sports cars that he made high-performance cars like the Cobra. He died in May at 89. He put Ford V-8 engines into other cars to rival competitors like Ferrari, Maserati and Jaguar. The Cobra captured America by storm in the 1960’s thanks to its design and its power. 

He kept on chugging, too. Over the past decade, he worked up a design of new Mustang models for the company’s centennial, and he was heavily involved in other projects.


Ralph McQuarrie


McQuarrie spent his career buried way behind the scenes of Hollywood, but he made quite a mark there. The artist, who died in March at the age of 82, transformed George Lucas’s vision for “Star Wars” into a bona fide, exciting motion picture full of intergalactic travel and dramatics. McQuarrie took illustrations from comic books and turned them into a marvelous spectacle. Millions of children grew up with the characters that McQuarrie brought to life. And they live on for another day.

Vidal Sassoon


Some might not have realized the popular hair products are named after the man behind the company. He passed away in May at the age of 84 and left behind a large empire and many avid fans. What made Sassoon unique was his methodology to haircutting, bringing a form of architectural design to coifs in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.

He developed a style of hair piled high that empowered women to take better care of their dos on their own without the need to race to the local salon. He liked to play with geometric shapes and sharp angles that would highlight the customer’s strengths. Along the way, he revolutionized the hair industry.


Thomas Kinkade


While many artists have aspired to reach tremendous heights in price and prestige for their works of art, Kinkade did a masterful job making decorative, sentimental paintings that were affordable for the average family. He died in April at 54. Some of his work had Christian themes, while others were focused on American fields and serenity. Kinkade deliberately left people out of his paintings as to allow the owner to envision himself inside the magnificent landscape. He called himself “painter of light” and provided a beacon for a nation of dreamers.

LeRoy Neiman


One of the most popular artists in America, Neiman died in June at 91 years of age. He covered sporting events in beautiful and innovative ways and photographed high society like few before him. Most remarkable was his versatility to seemingly know no bounds — completing paintings, drawings, watercolors, serigraph prints and coffee-table books over the course of his career.

He brought in tens of millions of dollars at sale. It’s his sports shots that brought him most fame, though. He attended several Olympics and Super Bowls and showed a willingness to adapt to the times and techniques.

Oscar Niemeyer


A successful Brazilian architect who lived until he was 104, Niemeyer passed away earlier this month. He’s remembered for his flowing designs that influenced architects around the worldHe died in his native Brazil. Niemeyer had strong ties to Modernism and is best known for designing the government buildings of Brasília.

With it, he helped Brazil bring itself to modern styles and standards. He dedicated his life to his trade, working through his 80s and into his 90s. “Humanity needs dreams to be able to survive the miseries of daily existence,” he was quoted as saying, “even if only for an instant.” – Nytimes.com

Elizabeth Catlett


Catlett died in April at the age of 96. She was famous for her sculptures of the human form that symbolized her feelings for the African-American experience and the long struggle for acceptance and assimilation. Her art stretches over at least 60 years, documenting from start to finish the way that blacks persevered and found strength during harder times.

She drew inspiration from well known black leaders like Harriet Tubman, Malcolm X, and Ralph Ellison, and her artwork is prominently displayed from coast to coast.


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