I am very sad to write that Martin Gardner, a skeptical giant and genius by any standard, died today in
Tulsa Norman, Oklahoma.
Wikipedia has a list of his remarkable achievements. He was a lifelong friend of James Randi, who has written a brief statement at the JREF page. I've heard Randi tell many a tale about him. His love for Martin was worn on his sleeve.
[Update (23 May 2010): Richard Dawkins wrote up his thoughts, and Scientific American, which published a column by Martin for more than three decades, put up a post as well.] I never met Martin, but he influenced my life anyway. I don't know exactly how old I was, but I think I was in sixth grade when I found a copy of one of his many books filled with brain teasers and math puzzles. I've always loved puzzles, but Martin's books showed me how to think around some problems, how to take that needed step to the side to see the solution lying beyond... and more importantly, trained me how to find the path to that solution.
Very few people wake up one day seeing the world rationally; it's a series of steps that takes you there. Eventually you look around and realize it, and when you look behind you you see the footsteps that brought you to that place. Off in the distance, well behind me, but at a critical point in my life, I can see where Martin gave me a nudge. It was a small push, to be sure, just a gentle poke, but with time it acquired vast leverage.
The skeptic community mourns the loss of one of our giants, but we know we're all better off for the time we had him here.
Picture credit: Wikipedia and Konrad Jacobs, used under a Creative Commons license.