Lives Lost

September 30, 2020 GMT

The coronavirus pandemic’s global toll is often talked about as a number - 2,000 dead. 15,000. 50,000. 100,000, and ever growing. Behind each one is a story, of a life well lived or cut short, of love, of perseverance, of heartache, of dancing, of laughter, of sacrifice, of bucket lists, of generosity.

Associated Press reporters around the world are working to capture these stories in a series called “Lives Lost.” Each is told individually, often with audio remembrances and photos from family members.

They are the stories of ordinary people who have sometimes done extraordinary things, or have had a profound impact on the loved ones they left behind or the communities they helped to build. When the pandemic is over, and life returns to normal, the biggest scar will be all the lives lost.


Here are just a few of them - a virtual scrapbook of a life:

“We will need 100 years to have someone like Dr. Yassin.”
The Epidemiologist - Yemen

For five decades, Yassin Abdel-Wareth was one of a handful of epidemiologists in Yemen, hunting for disease outbreaks that are as endemic as armed conflicts in the Middle East’s poorest nation. He had seen many diseases such as cholera, malaria, Rift Valley fever and, in early June, his last: the new coronavirus. The doctor-turned-epidemiologist, 72, was remembered as a generous, kind-hearted man who protected his family from Yemen’s ultraconservative society and a tireless doctor with an encyclopedic memory who navigated the country’s tribal and regional fault lines to educate Yemenis about disease.

Learn more about Abdel-Wareth’s work.

“She would celebrate anybody.”
The Generous Auntie - California

For her family, Lydia Nunez was the center of the party. The 34-year-old loved to dance, cook and help take care of her two nieces and two nephews. One of her signature phrases was: “Where’s the party at?” While she had health problems related to diabetes, she never let them define her. On the contrary, she always tried to lift the spirits of those around her. In high school, she asked her mother for extra money so she could throw a birthday celebration for a classmate who wasn’t going to have one because his parents were divorced.

Read more on Nunez’s life

“She was young, strong, brave.”
The Migrant - Venezuela

Yurancy Castillo did not want to leave her family. But as inflation in Venezuela soared, rendering her salary as a social worker nearly worthless, the young woman known for her beaming smile and wild amber-colored curls decided her future rested far away, in Peru. Those dreams would be stifled time and again. In Peru, she found jobs selling sewing machines and waitressing, but they paid little. Peruvians frequently cast cold looks and cruel remarks in her direction. But the biggest thief of dreams proved a diminutive, silent foe: COVID-19.


Read about Castillo’s journey.

“She was a magnet.”
The Shakespeare Lady - Connecticut

She had all the makings of a rising star, someone who wrote, directed and acted in her own plays in her 20s and attended one of the country’s top drama schools around the same time as Meryl Streep and Sigourney Weaver. But unlike those stars, Margaret Holloway never made it to Broadway or Hollywood. Instead, the 68-year-old’s stage was the New Haven, Connecticut, streets where she lived and became known as “The Shakespeare Lady” for her gritty, intense, colorful and sometimes over-the-top performances of the bard’s “Macbeth” and “Hamlet.” Often homeless and hobbled by drug addiction and mental illness, she spent decades on and off the streets. But her performances almost always left an impression.

Read more on Holloway’s street performances and art

“A good-hearted warrior woman.”
The Matriarch – Brazil

Carivaldina Oliveira da Costa was the matriarch who signed off on all decisions of her quilombo community, one of Brazil’s many groups that are descendants of escaped slaves. Dona Uia, as she was known, worked tirelessly for the roughly 700 families. Often disconnected from urban life even within city limits, quilombos have relatively high poverty and can be confused by outsiders with other poor neighborhoods. Dona Uia fought for years to try to get land titles for her community. 

Read more about her fight for her community.

“They touched a lot of lives.”
The Twins – Vermont

Beefy and bearded with big smiles, Cleon and Leon Boyd were family men who in some ways symbolized what the tiny town of Wilmington, Vermont, stood for — toughness, generosity and an appreciation of traditions. They could fix almost anything and never hesitated to help others. And they were popular musicians, playing together in bands that provided the soundtrack at graduations, weddings and family get-togethers. After their deaths, with funerals out of the question, hundreds of residents decorated their cars and drove past the Boyd farm, honking their horns.

Read more about what the Boyds meant to Wilmington.

“For me, being a doctor is something I’m proud of.”
The Musical Doctor - Indonesia

From the time he was a kid, Michael Robert Marampe knew he wanted to be a doctor and pianist. Marampe, 28, became both, and his passion for music even led him to his fiancée, Tri Novia Septiani — a woman he never got to marry because he got the coronavirus. The couple planned to tie the knot in April but postponed the wedding as the virus started spreading in Indonesia in March. The couple met at church, where she was a singer, and they formed a musical duo. He made a song for her called, “You are the Last One.” 

Read more about Marampe’s life and musical passion.

“Having the time of my life.”
The College Student – New York

Right up to the end, the status message on Saadya Ehrenpreis’ WhatsApp profile read: “Having the time of my life.” Born with Down syndrome, Ehrenpreis, 35, was not expected to be able to become independent, and doctors said he might not even learn to talk. He proved them wrong, graduating from high school and enrolling in a Yeshiva University program for young men with special needs. Beloved on the campus for his joyful spirit, Ehrenpreis had long dreamed of attending Yeshiva because his late father, Leon Ehrenpreis, had been a mathematics professor at the college.

Read more about Ehrenpreis’ journey to college.  

“There is always going to be a vacant spot in his field.”
The Ref - England

The best referees are largely invisible, keeping order unobtrusively and letting the players decide the game. They are more often recognized in their absence. Jermaine Wright, 46, was that - a beloved referee – and a driving force who helped build a community on the Hackney Marshes. The vast open space is home to 82 football, rugby and cricket fields that have nurtured the dreams of athletes such as a young David Beckham. Players said Wright was also there for players off-the-field. His devotion earned him the nickname “Mr. Hackney Marshes.”

Read more about Wright’s impact on the players.

“Made me feel like I was the most important person in the world.”
The Veteran - Massachusetts

James Mandeville, 83, had a playfulness to him that never seemed to fade. With his grandchildren, he’d swim and wrestle and play basketball, even after he started using a wheelchair. He’d play cards with his daughter Laurie Mandeville Beaudette and, if she left the table, she’d return to find the deck had been stacked. She took to calling him “Cheater Beater.” He found joy in babies and dogs and for all his fun-lovingness, he imparted something deep in those who were close to him. “He always made me feel like I was the most important person in the world,” she says. “We were best friends.”

Explore the lives of other veterans who died at the Holyoke Soliders’ Home in Massachusetts in a special portrait series here.  

“This was such a unique love.”
The Unlikely Couple - New York

Edward Porco, 89, was a by-the-book, buttoned-up Republican committeeman whose opinions could be quick and blunt, who prized punctuality, planning and order. Joan Powers, 90, was a free-thinking, authority-snubbing liberal who would draw stories out in meandering conversation, found a home in protests and never let a rule get in her way. They were as surprised as everyone else when they fell in love. And till the very end, they cherished their differences.

Read more about their love story.

“He played to glorify God. ”
The Unassuming Maestro - Massachusetts

Those who knew Joseph Policelli say he was unassuming, egoless and largely anonymous. But in the lives of generations of Catholics in communities around Massachusetts, he played the soundtrack. Over a half-century career, the 71-year-old from Worcester, Massachusetts, cemented a reputation as a talented church organist and music director who could make the pipes moan at a funeral or on a solemn Good Friday or thunder in joy at a wedding or on Christmas. He was there every Sunday in between and delivered victorious graduation marches, bellowing birthdays and the mundane go-tos of worship music.

Read about Policelli’s life in music.  

“We would all lean on him.”
The Immigrant Doctor - England

Amged El-Hawrani saw himself as a regular guy even though his path to becoming a respected doctor in Britain was anything but ordinary. Born in Sudan, El-Hawrani’s family moved to England when he was 11. Intelligence and inner strength helped him climb the ranks in the medical profession and be the person so many family members would lean on. The 55-year-old doctor’s legacy was not only medicine, but his family, specifically his 18-year-old son.

Read more about El-Hawrani’s life and journey to become a doctor.

“She lived her life like everybody should.”
The Adventurous Survivor - New Hampshire

For most of her adult life, Joanne Mellady suffered from a lung condition that made breathing very difficult. After getting a double lung transplant in 2007, the woman who had always been shy and reserved began embracing life in a way that inspired everyone who knew her. No adventure was too extreme for the 67-year-old, no location too far away to visit and no item on the bucket list could be ignored.

Read more about how her life inspired others.

“She had an angelic voice.”
The Flamboyant Singer - Portugal

Hannelore Cruz, 76, used to deliver a message to her grandson: Don’t let difficulties stand in the way of your goals. To prove it, she’d point to her own life. A refugee at age 5 from her native Austria after World War II, she grew up in Portugal and thrived despite the challenges of language and culture. She did it with a flamboyant style unusual in Portuguese society - and a singing voice that “lent magic” to wherever she performed.

Read more about Cruz, including her life as a singer.

“She was that shining star in the room.”
The Queen Dancer - Michigan

With long, flowing hair and a smile that could light up a room, some friends called 47-year-old Laneeka Barksdale “the queen” of Detroit-style ballroom dancing, a soulful dance popular in the African-American community. She knew every variation, from a basic two-step to more sophisticated moves that had her gliding elegantly across the floor with a contemporary twist on the tango and waltz. For her brother, that love of dancing and her “infectious laugh” made her “the shining star in the room.”

Read more about Barksdale’s love for dance.

“Everybody wanted to be around her.”
The New Mom - Brazil

Born poor in Brazil, a nation with chronic inequality and limited social mobility, Rafaela de Jesus Silva was clawing her way to a middle-class life by working all kinds of jobs while studying to be a teacher. An easy-going personality and wide smile made the 28-year-old the kind of person who drew others in. As she got close to finishing her degree, she was also excited about arguably her biggest job yet: becoming a mother.

Read more about Silva’s life journey.

“He was proudly, shamelessly himself.”
The Holocaust Scholar - Indiana

Isaiah Kuperstein immersed himself in obscure corners of Holocaust research, shared stages with the likes of Elie Wiesel and insisted to anyone who’d listen how essential the lessons of genocide remained. He helped shape the way children were taught about the slaughter of Jews through a landmark museum exhibit. More than anything, though, the 70-year-old sought to see his Jewish heritage live on in his own family.

Read more about his efforts to educate the public about the Holocaust.

“Welcomed everyone with arms open wide.”
The Bistro's Heart - France

When she wasn’t running her own restaurant, she was eating out. And when she wasn’t giggling, she was sending everyone around her into gales of laughter. For more than three decades, Viviane Bouculat, 65, was the owner, impresario, cook and bottle washer at l’Annexe, a bistro in a Paris suburb. Over the years, the restaurant became a haven for local artists, actors and musicians. She had a way of turning customers into friends, and friends into confidants.

Read more about the impact Bouculat had on her community.

“She kept everyone together.”
The Devout Matriarch - Louisiana

To her extended family, Mary Louise Brown Morgan, 78, was the matriarch who went out of her way to make sure they were OK. She helped care for a dying brother and a friend’s children. She flew to New York to cook Thanksgiving dinner for her grandson and his medical school colleagues. “Everybody loves her pies and cakes,” he said. Through it all, a constant was her faith, so deep it was that she’d tithe her last dollars to her church.

Read more about Morgan’s faith.

“He was a noble knight.”
The Generous Doctor - Egypt

Dr. Ahmed el-Lawah didn’t just treat patients in the Egyptian city of Port Said, he was a pillar of the community and a father figure to many. When patients coming to his medical laboratory couldn’t pay, he would test them for free. The 57-year-old taught pathology at the university, built mosques as acts of charity and had recently told his 13-year-old son that he hoped he would also become a doctor.

Read more about his impact on his family and community.

Learn more about those lost to the virus: Lives Lost