When I was a kid, my heroes included (in no particular order):
• Enid Blyton;
• Audrey Hepburn;
• Jean Louise (Scout) Finch; and
• Sally Ride.
Enid Blyton wrote the awesome books of my childhood and fostered the imagination of a shy, suburban girl from a small city at the bottom of the globe. From all accounts, she wasn't the most pleasant of people, but my god, did she write some great stories. I still wish I'd been able to go to school at Malory Towers and spend summers having adventures with the Famous Five. My love of all things British is, in no small part, due to her stories.
The talents of Audrey Hepburn were introduced to me by my father, when he took me (aged five) to a screening of "My Fair Lady". I was enthralled. I thought she was gracious and elegant and beautiful and I wanted to BE her. I think I managed to talk Dad into taking me to see all of her films by the time I was about ten. She wasn't the greatest actress of her generation, but she was a convincing storyteller and her humanitarian work later in life, was wonderful.
Scout Finch, albeit being a fictional character, was introduced to me (again, by my father - awesome man that he was) when I was seven and started complaining during the summer holidays about being bored. (In reality, it was probably along the lines of: "I'm boooooorred Daaaaaaad. There's nothing to doooooooo. Brutha won't plaaaaaaay with me"). Telling my father you were bored was never a good idea, because he'd always find a 'holiday task' for you to complete; often these tasks involved menial labour, like cleaning walls in preparation for painting, polishing silver, or digging up weeds. On this occasion, however, he marched me to the bookcase, pulled out "To Kill A Mockingbird" and said: "Read this. Properly. Make notes, because in two weeks, we will be discussing it and I expect you to have opinions on plot and characters". Really. At seven, that's how he spoke to me. Like I was an adult. Anyway, I read it. In about ten days. Then we discussed it at length. Later that summer, he discovered that a cinema on the other side of the city was showing the movie, so he took me to see it. That was it. Scout was firmly entrenched as one of my heroes. Smart, curious, tomboy-ish, just and honest. Qualities I'm sure my father was happy for me to adopt. Incidentally, she also had a pain-in-the-ass older brother.
In 1983, two days before my twelfth birthday, Sally Ride became the first American woman to enter space. In the male-dominated field of space exploration, she blazed a trail and made it cool for girls to study physics and aspire to orbit the globe. Sadly, my grasp of even the most basic of scientific fields was not what you'd call strong (language, literature, art and music figured highly in my electives during high school), so I was unlikely to ever become a scientist, let alone an astronaut. But the fact that it was actually an option (if I was so inclined), was definitely due, in part, to seeing women like Sally Ride forging a successful career in a field long-dominated by men. She made news headlines for being a leader in her field. She didn't have her own perfume line, she didn't date celebrities, she didn't have her own reality TV show. Nobody wrote about her love life, her weight or whether she was wearing make up or not. She was a scientist. An astronaut. She explored the universe and showed girls that with hard work, a good education and a keen mind, you could do something amazing and worthwhile.
The news of Sally Ride's death today saddens me. The fact that young girls of today look more to the likes of the Kardashians as their role models, also saddens me. I would like the world to be a place where brains matter more than looks.
Vale, Sally Ride. The world needs more of you.