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Van Cliburn is gone, but thanks to him, we are each a little richer.

A half century ago, the Russians, then the Soviets, thought a highly competitive piano competition could be a means of proving the superiority of their system, the empty decadence of our own.

We competed in everything else: space, arms, international influence; why not, the Kremlin thought, outshine the upstart Americans in the world of culture?

They had exceptional performers. It seemed an easy victory.

But Nikita Khrushchev and company hadn't planned on the tall Texan from Fort Worth who, at 23-years-old, played so well they had no choice but to award him top prize.

He could have rubbed their nose in it.

Instead, Van Cliburn, always gracious, humbly said thank you. He momentarily lowered the rising temperature of the Cold War.

As he's laid to rest this weekend take a moment to visit YouTube and watch him play.

It's America at its finest, courtesy of Fort Worth.

These are my thoughts, tell me yours at jmccaa@wfaa.com.

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