Publisher's Letter

updated 12/26/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/26/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

Pessimists called it the Year Without Heroes—and they had some reason. This fall's presidential campaign seemed the muddiest in memory. Triumphant Olympic performances like that of U.S. diver Greg Louganis were shadowed by the scandal over steroids that cost Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson a gold medal. A former Miss America, Bess Myerson, stood trial for conspiracy. Not even our churches were sacrosanct: Jimmy Swaggart was banned from his pulpit for consorting with prostitutes, and evangelist Jim Bakker was indicted for fraud.

But reviewing a year of PEOPLE, we found plenty to admire—though it was rarely in the headline news. The acts of courage that buoyed us in 1988—and, judging by our mail, moved readers as well—were found not in the corridors of power but in small towns and out-of-the-way places. We were inspired by Jack Lynch's dedication to saving America's endangered buffalo wolves; we were moved by the remarkable courage of Sage Volkman, who is proving that you can maintain your spirit after horrible, scarring burns. We cheered the men and women who worked tirelessly around the clock to free three whales from an Alaskan ice pack. And as this issue went to press, we marveled at the spontaneous outpouring of aid and concern for earthquake victims in Armenia.

It was a year of notable endings and beginnings. We prepared to close the book on the eight-year tenure of our father-figure President, Ronald Reagan, and began to consider the promise of a new administration headed by George Bush, long familiar to us as a man in the wings. We had to say goodbye to rock legend Roy Orbison, whose achingly pure voice seemed to have a direct line to our longing, but we rejoiced that new artists like Tracy Chapman could still make popular music touch deep chords. Though the marriage of Charles and Diana continued to lose its fairy-tale quality and to settle into a somewhat less lovely reality, a tiny new princess named Beatrice won the hearts of royal watchers.

It was also a year in which we demonstrated our capacity to learn from the past and move forward. The American space program, at its tragic nadir in 1986, managed to right itself and soar ahead last September, when Discovery lifted off from its Florida launchpad. We marked the anniversaries of two American tragedies—the assassinations of John F. Kennedy in 1963 and of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968—with a new appreciation of all they accomplished, and all that remains to be done.

We're optimists rather than pessimists because our reporters, writers and photographers demonstrated once again in 1988 that heroes don't exist only in our past. As PEOPLE reminds us every week, they're right here among us.

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