In lots of ways, this year has been a year of goodbyes. Many of us have said goodbye to colleagues and teammates, friends and family, leaders and advocates. On this episode of the StoryCorps podcast, we’re honoring some of the legends we lost in 2020; people who, even in times of struggle, lived their lives courageously.

Sissy Goodwin was one of them. Despite being a Vietnam veteran and longtime educator, Sissy’s heroism became synonymous with his fashion sense: he was a man from Wyoming who liked to wear dresses. He was also a loving husband and devoted father. Sissy died in March, of stage IV brain cancer. But back in 2015, he came StoryCorps with his wife, Vickie, to talk about the early days of their relationship and what made their marriage work.

Photo: Vickie and Sissy Goodwin at their StoryCorps interview in Douglas, Wyoming in 2015. Photo by Luis Gallo for StoryCorps.

Congressman John Lewis was no stranger to the spotlight. A civil rights activist and freedom fighter for more than 60 years, his life’s work was dedicated to building a more just and humane country. Throughout his career, he often cited Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as being one of his greatest influences. In 2019, Rep. Lewis came to StoryCorps with his friend Valerie Jackson to remember how some of his childhood heroes helped him become a leader in his own right.

Photo: John Lewis and Valerie Jackson at their StoryCorps interview in Atlanta, Georgia on February 20, 2018. By Daniel Horowitz Garcia for StoryCorps.

The late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg may have been small in stature, but even at 5’1″, her steadfast advocacy for gender equality made her a giant. Perhaps none knew this better than the people she fought for — people like Sharron Cohen. 

In the early 1970s, Sharron Cohen (then Sharron Frontiero) was a newlywed Air Force Lieutenant who, after being denied benefits that were offered to her male colleagues, sued the federal government for discrimination on the basis of sex.

Her lawyer was Joe Levin, but the case also caught the attention of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was working at the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project at the time. In 1973, Levin and Ginsburg argued the case — which came to be known as Frontiero v. Richardson — in front of the Supreme Court. Decades later, Sharron spoke with her son Nathan to remember the late justice.

Photo: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with former plaintiff Sharron Cohen, her husband David Cohen, and son Nathan on the steps of the Supreme Court building in 1999. Courtesy of Sharron Cohen.

We end with the words of Navy veteran Joseph Patton, who joined the military in 1955. At the time, homosexuality was banned in the military, forcing many gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals to serve in silence. Although Joseph was’t out at the time, he was targeted because of who he hung out with, and was eventually kicked out of the Navy on the grounds that they thought he was gay. 

In the 1970s, Joseph fought to get his “undesirable discharge” upgraded to honorable, and finally received the service benefits he’d always deserved. 

Photo: Joseph Patton, who recorded in Santa Monica, California with StoryCorps in 2019. Photo by Jud Esty-Kendall.
Top photo: Artwork by Lindsay Mound.