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In our opinion: Heroes of 2010

Published: Sunday, Jan. 2 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

Davis Guggenheim

Dave Allocca, Starpix

Heroism signifies extraordinary qualities of commitment, courage and resilience that improve our world in the face of tough odds or outright opposition. The Deseret News has identified a handful of people who inspired us in 2010 for their heroic efforts to promote the values that undergird our six areas of editorial emphasis: the Family, Faith in the Community, Financial Responsibility, Educational Excellence, Care for the Poor and Values in the Media.

Values in the Media: In 2001, Micheal Flaherty and Cary Granat, founded what many skeptics thought would prove a financial failure: a film production company dedicated to high-quality family media. But Flaherty and Granat's Walden Media has consistently demonstrated that values-based family films can garner critical acclaim and box-office success. Their films include The Chronicles of Narnia series, Charlotte's Web, Journey to the Center of the Earth and Amazing Grace. In addition to films, Walden Media partners with schools, museums and other non-profits to provide valuable educational materials related to the content of their films.

Care for the Poor: Drawing from a rich heritage of natural law and Catholic social teaching, Most Rev. John C. Wester, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, has consistently championed a humane approach to plight of poor immigrants in our community, seeking orderly accommodation over rigid enforcement. His leadership exemplifies his own powerful teaching regarding stewardship, namely, that after gratefully receiving blessings, we have a moral responsibility to generously share our bounty in justice and love with those who are less fortunate than ourselves.

Financial Responsibility: In the face of strident opposition, George Osborne, the 39-year-old British Chancellor of the Exchequer, put together the British coalition government's ambitious plan to eliminate Britain's structural deficit through dramatically reduced government spending, entitlement reform and increased consumption taxes. This broadly shared responsibility for rectifying Britain's fiscal mess continues to be resisted, but it provides an example to other advanced democracies for how genuine fiscal accountability can be achieved.

Excellence in education: As a senior at Princeton University, Wendy Kopp came up with the idea for placing high achieving college graduates for two-year stints in struggling schools. She has championed the idea from a senior thesis concept, to initial funding, a successful launch and widespread adoption and demonstrable success. Teach for America is now one of the nation's largest providers of teachers for low-income communities and it is building a pipeline of leaders committed to educational excellence.

Already recognized for his prowess as a director and producer, Davis Guggenheim opened up a much-needed national discussion about the failings of contemporary public education and promising new approaches to teaching that are gaining traction in public charter schools in his 2010 documentary Waiting for Superman.

Faith in the community: This past year two accomplished athletic teams, Brigham Young University's women's rugby team and Southern Virginia University's women's soccer team, successfully competed their way into the finals of their respective national tournaments only to forfeit because they would not compromise their commitment to Sabbath-day observance. That harnessing of ambition to a faith-based principle seems all-too-rare in our competitive modern world.

When fire threatened homes in Herriman last September, Kevin Williams hadn't planned on being a hero. He just answered the phone at the landfill when firefighters called looking for a bulldozer. Then he answered the call in another sense, risking his own life over several hours to carve a wall between fast-moving flames and homes along a steep and rocky hillside. Darkness and heat challenged him at every turn. Once a bush caught fire next to his vehicle. When it was over, he had saved 32 homes from almost certain destruction.

The Family: Returning from her mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in France to testify against her abductor Brian David Mitchell, Elizabeth Smart provided a vivid example of how commitment to family can provide the strongest source of courage and resilience. Shining through the sordid details of her 9-month ordeal was the hope afforded by her family's love. Smart testified that in a moment of deep despair she remembered her family. "I thought no matter what happened to me, my parents would always love me. And I thought that couldn't change and that I still was a person of worth. … I decided I would live. … I would keep my life and my family's life intact, and I did that until the very end."

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