Norris McWhirter, who 50 years ago co-founded the Guinness Book of Records, died Monday of a heart attack that struck while he was playing tennis at his home in Wiltshire, England. He was 78. The LA Times reports that McWhirter started the book series with his identical twin brother, Ross (who was shot dead by the Irish Republican Army in 1975), in 1954 and edited, compiled, researched, and authenticated it until his reluctant retirement in 1986. The book was originally established at the request of Guinness Brewery honcho Sir Hugh Beaver as a means to settle pub arguments (seems the fastest species of gamebird could not be determined with existing reference books). The books eventually came to sell 1 million copies a year.
During his long tenure, McWhirter was a hands-on compiler and editor, reading every page proof, reviewing evidence establishing the records and often visiting the claimants personally. He visited sites in 91 countries, including remote Japanese islands to meet the world’s oldest man; see the driest place on earth (the Atacama desert in Chile, where it hasn’t rained in 400 years); and meet the man with the biggest feet (size 22.5) and the woman who lost the most weight (749 pounds). He could reel off factoids — the first contact lens was invented in 1887 and 840,000 people died in an earthquake in Xian, China, in 1551.
A heart attack also claimed the life of Jim Cantalupo, chairman and CEO of McDonald’s Corp. The 60-year-old was attending the McDonald’s international franchisees convention in Orlando when the attack occurred. Cantalupo had been lauded for bringing the company out of its economic slump when he oversaw the proliferation of it restaurants worldwide in the 1980s and ’90s. This early death from a heart attack can’t look good for the company though.