Less than two months from the conclusion of 2012, we can say with some certainty that three pillars of this community have been lost this year.
Early Monday, the Rev. J.H. Flakes Jr., pastor emeritus of Fourth Street Missionary Baptist Church, died at 78.
In August, former Columbus mayor and prominent criminal defense attorney Frank Martin died after a lengthy illness.
On the Fourth of July, longtime Juvenile Court judge and World War II veteran Aaron Cohn died at 96.
Three large holes in the community fabric.
Three men who took three different paths with one common thread -- they all made Columbus a better place to live.
One thing that is interesting to note about the three civic and community leaders is they all worked up until the end of their lives. Flakes stepped aside as pastor of Fourth Street in the spring, leaving the daily tending of the flock to his son, J.H. Flakes III.
Martin, battling cancer, was in his downtown law office working the week before he passed away.
Cohn spent nearly half a century on the bench before retiring last September in declining health.
And all three men left lasting marks on this city that won't be erased by their deaths.
Cohn was the father of the second chance for youthful offenders. He used his court as a bully pulpit to pick up kids who made a mistake, dust them off and give them some direction to keep them from making that mistake again.
And he did it with the love, grace and wisdom of a grandfather.
Martin got the citizens of Columbus to shed their second-class self-esteem and believe anything was possible. He got them to do what many here thought was impossible -- to vote for higher taxes if it meant infrastructure improvements. The Columbus Civic Center, Public Safety Building and the 1996 Olympic softball venues stand as monuments to Martin's work.
Flakes' legacy is that he fought for human rights for all. When this city could have exploded in racial violence like many cities around us, Flakes was one of the cooler heads that prevailed. He was a man who led by faith.
All three of them provided windows into another time.
For Cohn, the window opened into World War II where he served in Patton's Army, helping liberate Jewish concentration camps.
For Martin, it was a window into the shaping of modern Columbus. He helped to open a lot of possibilities.
For Flakes, his window opened into the Civil Rights Movement. He lived long enough to see a black man elected -- and re-elected -- president of the United States.
This community owes all three of these men a debt of gratitude. They all left Columbus better than they found it.
Chuck Williams, senior editor for content, email@example.com.