Celebrating brutish determination

Nobody ever made a difference in the world by taking the easy road. Here, we celebrate the great trailblazers and champions, the visionaries and just plain stubborn who have pushed humanity forward in ways great and small. We applaud your brutish determination with a toast of Handsome Brut.

Frederick Douglass

A leader of the antislavery movement

Frederick Douglass was born in a slave cabin in Maryland in 1818, the son of Harriet Bailey and an unknown white man. He learned to read under the illegal tutelage of a kindly plantation owner’s wife. When the lessons were discovered and forbidden, Douglass continued to teach himself how to read and write in secret. “Knowledge,” he would later say, “is the pathway from slavery to freedom.”

After several failed attempts, Douglass finally escaped slavery in 1838 and married a free black woman named Anna Murray. They settled in Massachusetts, where he began giving speeches about his own experiences (he would later cause enormous controversy when, after Murray’s death, he married a white woman).
Dazzling oratory and powerful writing led Douglass to become a leader of the abolitionist movement. His three autobiographical works, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845), My Bondage and My Freedom (1855) and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881) helped propel him to international fame.

Douglass also devoted significant time and energy to the support of women’s suffrage—a cause he saw as being closely aligned with abolition.

In the Civil War years, Douglass served as a trusted advisor to Abraham Lincoln and held posts that included United States Marshal for the District of Columbia, Recorder of Deeds for Washington, D.C., and Minister General to the Republic of Haiti, making him the first African American to hold high-ranking positions in the U.S. government.

Nikola Tesla

A nineteenth century mad scientist for the twenty-first century

After staring death in the eye and surviving cholera, being forced to drop out of university and later quitting his job working for Thomas Edison due to a dispute about a bonus, Nikola Tesla went on to establish himself as a well-known entrepreneur and inventor. He is most famous for designing the modern alternating current (AC) electricity supply system.

Born to Serbian parents in the Austrian Empire in 1856, Tesla did most of his work in the U.S., after immigrating there in 1884. Unfortunately, many of his designs and ideas were too radical for the time, so he experienced some lows in his career; for example, one winter after being forced out of a business partnership, he had to make ends meet by digging ditches.

But Tesla bounced back and spent the rest of his life, until his death at age 86, inventing, refining and collaborating on a plethora of electrical devices—including some that were creative but too advanced for his day, such as radio-controlled devices.

With his legacy inexplicably overshadowed by Thomas Edison’s for most of the twentieth century, Tesla has become far better known—and his accomplishments noted—in recent years, a growing fame that was catapulted by the naming of the Tesla electric car after him.

Dave Kopay

First pro team athlete to come out

Kopay stunned the sports world and made history in 1975 when he publicly came out in a Washington Star article. Following his brave, trailblazing statement, Kopay remains outspoken and undaunted to this day, continuing to give interviews, advocate for gay youth and write op-eds supporting gay rights.

Though he played for five teams in the nine seasons of his NFL career—San Francisco, Detroit, Washington, New Orleans and Green Bay—Kopay was mostly shunned by the NFL after coming out: he pursued coaching jobs in both the NCAA and NFL upon retirement, but was unable to secure a position. Instead he worked for twenty years at his uncle’s flooring business in Hollywood, where he lives today.

His 1977 memoir, The David Kopay Story: An Extraordinary Self-Revelation, was a New York Times bestseller and reprinted five times.

Kopay announced in 2008 that he would leave the entirety of his 401(k)—a sum of $1 million—to the Q Center, an LGBT resource and support centre at the University of Washington, his alma mater.

Frank Lloyd Wright

An unwavering vision and lifelong relevance

Whether it happens in youth or maturity, most superstars have an active period during which they create the oeuvre for which they’re best known. Not so for famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, whose work in the early 1900s launched a career that lasted for nearly 60 years, during which time Wright married three times (his personal life was, unfortunately, a combination of controversial behaviour and tragic losses) and reinvented his craft multiple times, from the Prairie Style homes to Usonian homes to striking public buildings.

In fact, the massive amount of designs and buildings he completed after the age of 70 are among his most famous, including Fallingwater and the Price Tower. New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, perhaps his boldest and most iconic building, was built when Wright was 92 years old (he died six months before it opened).

Some of Wright’s pioneering work includes ideas that are commonplace today: passive solar heating, open-concept offices, multi-storey hotel lobbies.

Canada’s National Women’s Team—Hockey

Wins: 249; Losses: 43; Ties: 5*

A bitter rivalry. Nail-biting overtime wins. A run of near-total dominance.

Women’s ice hockey gained serious international attention when it made its debut at the 1998 Winter Olympics, where the four-time defending world champions, Team Canada, endured a humiliating loss to Team USA.

The loss only served to make the team more determined. Canada’s women have not lost an Olympic game since, claiming gold in the 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014 Olympics.

As more countries invest in their women’s hockey programs, it remains to be seen whether the sport will always come down to Canada versus USA in the championships, but for now, it’s a damned exciting rivalry—and a stunning record for Canadians to be proud of.

*Stats as of February 2015

Eddie Merckx

Tour de force

Before cyclists specialized in training for one race only, before steroids and EPO, before carbon fibre, there was Eddie Merckx. Nicknamed “The Cannibal,” this Belgian holds the undisputed title of the greatest pro cyclist ever. Why? In his finest era, from 1969 to 1975, Merckx won 35 percent of the races he entered—that’s more than one in three. And he entered many during his 13-year career. He won the World Championship four times—once as an amateur and three times as a pro. He won 11 Grand Tours: the Tour de France five times, the Giro d’Italia five times and the Vuelta a España once. He won cycling’s five classic “monument” races (Milan-San Remo, Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Tour of Lombardy) a minimum of twice each (19 wins in total). He broke the world hour record in 1972 (covering 49.431 km in an hour), after having raced a full season.

Oh, and he achieved most of these victories after a crash in 1969 that left him with a cracked vertebra and twisted pelvis, which left him suffering from chronic pain (and cycling fans with a great deal of speculation about how much more he would have won had he not been injured).

Tenzing Norgay

The man who conquered Everest

We all know Sir Edmund Hillary was the first to reach the summit of Mount Everest—or was he?

There’s considerable debate about whether Hillary or his Sherpa guide, Tenzing Norgay, deserve that title (there’s even debate about whether Norgay was a “true” Sherpa by birth, but that’s another matter). The debate began almost immediately after the expedition was declared a success in May 1953, when journalists pestered the duo to determine which man was the first. Wisely, the expedition’s leader, Colonel John Hunt, gave the diplomatic response, “They reached it together, as a team.”

Regardless of who was the first, it’s plain that, while Hillary has received the lion’s share of the credit, Norgay most likely did the lion’s share of the work.