Since 1984, Alex Trebek has been gracing the television screens of our nation as a familiar friend—an arbiter of knowledge, laughter, and fun that generations of people engaged with each weeknight. Whether we spent our evenings with family and friends or by our lonesome, Jeopardy became a source of comfort and a bonding force for many people.
Even outside of North America, Jeopardy made people feel like a part of something bigger. Like the new Jeopardy champion, Burt Thacker, many around the world have even learned English – and how to be an American – from watching Jeopardy.
On November 8th, Trebek passed away peacefully in his home in Los Angeles after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, according to a statement from Jeopardy’s official Twitter account. He was eighty years old. Despite his illness, Trebek courageously hosted the show until ten days before his death, filming his last episode on October 29th, 2020.
Trebek’s dedication to his work was admirable, but so was his attitude of kindness and compassion that he expressed not only towards contestants but shared with his community. In his long history of generosity, his donations of land in California has been one of his most impressive undertakings.
In 1998, he donated 74 acres of open land to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. Part of this land is now called the Trebek Open Space, which neighbors Runyon Canyon. The scenic green area offers trails and panoramic views of the city to the public, which would otherwise have been developed into residential or corporate spaces.
Over his lifetime, his kindness extended past conservation efforts into other charitable activities. He supported the humanitarian organization World Vision, and even traveled on an aid trip to Ethiopia to support its citizens during the country’s famine. In the Southern-Central African country of Zambia, Trebek and family adopted a village, where his philanthropic efforts helped build a school, medical facility, and homes for teachers.
“Since I am in a position to help, why not do something to help make people’s lives a little easier?” said Trebek in an interview with CTV News Network. “I can give them the break that I had in a different context, and maybe it will turn their lives around as it did mine. And there’s no downside to it. I’m helping somebody; that makes them feel good. I feel good because I’m making them feel good, so why not [help]?”
Any celebrity can use their fortune to help good causes, but according to everyone who had the pleasure of meeting Trebek, his kindness extended beyond just monetary donations. He was a man who is remembered by all he met as a kind and caring soul.
Anne Herbst Otto, who competed on the show on Halloween of 1989, remembers Trebek as a wonderfully empathetic character.
She tells Be Kind & Co. that she was one of many who were fortunate enough to have met Trebek. She also shared this story with us.
“I was among the hordes of those fortunate enough to have met Mr. Trebek as a contestant,” says Otto. “Anyway, I was doing well in the game, but before Final Jeopardy, the judges adjourned us for 45 minutes to debate an answer of mine. The pause in momentum blew my confidence, and when the last question came I was slow to answer, frankly in a bit of a fog.”
“I didn’t write down what I was thinking. And that was the end. If I had been less befuddled, I would have won. But after the match, as Alex made his traditional walk down the line of the contestants to thank and congratulate us, he shook my hand, started to move on, and then turned back.”
‘You knew the answer to that question, didn’t you?‘ he said. I nodded sadly.
And he smiled kindly and added, ‘Try not to torture yourself. It happens all the time.”‘
Like many generations of people, Otto will never forget Trebek as a wonderful, intelligent person, but what she holds in her heart is how he made her feel with his humanity and kindness.