Obituaries and other forms of tribute
Obituaries can and should be interesting stories, not boring brag fests.
• What's happening to the obituary page?
• Obituaries as resources for genealogists
• Write your own obituary
• Self-written obituaries
• Online obituary and memorial websites
• Moving, memorable, amusing, or interesting
obituaries and other kinds of tribute
• Books on (and of) obituary writing
See also Eulogies and Video Tributes
Death often takes us unaware, even when there has been an illness. And in a state of confusion, grief, and fatigue we are expected to attend to practical details, one of which may be encouraging the local paper to write an obituary (the essay-like story about the deceased written by a staff writer, not the paid-for death notice listing the surviving family members, etc.). In the past, papers like the New York Times and the Washington Post wrote obituaries mostly about the rich, the famous, and the important local dead. More recently, recognizing that the obituary page is the first page many people turn to in the morning (to see which friends have left this world), they have begun writing interesting stories about regular (albeit sometimes eccentric) people. Obituaries can and should be interesting stories, not boring brag fests. Here are some links to sites for fans of obituaries, to examples of interesting obituaries, and to related sites.
• Obituaries help keep local newspapers afloat (Sara Fischer, Alison Snyder, Axios, 8-27-19) "Obits, alongside public notice ads, are one of the last remaining consistent revenue streams that local newspapers rely on, although both are being challenged by the digital age...the newspaper market in the U.S. brings in roughly $25 billion in advertising and subscriptions combined." Piece covers average starting rates for obits, average revenue range per obit (which varies in small, medium, and large markets), who dominates the obit market, and how the market is changing. Bottom line: It's the rich people who get most of the free obits now. Everyone else can pay per word.
• How tech platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google) handle a user's death (David McCabe, Axios, 8-10-19) Read this to see why you should plan ahead for what happens to your account when you die; who (when you're dead) can authorize "memorializing" and freezing your account with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Google; and how social media might guess you are dead.
• Have a Suggestion for an Overlooked Obit? We Want to Hear From You (New York Times, 3-8-18). USE THIS FORM.
• From the Death Desk: Why Most Obituaries Are Still of White Men (William McDonald, NY Times, 3-8-18) "We're exclusive to the extreme.... We focus on people who made a difference on a large stage — people who, we think, will command the broadest interest. Fame, of the widespread kind, will usually get someone past the velvet ropes. Accomplishment, with wide impact, matters as much, and it often goes hand in hand with fame....We seek only to report deaths and to sum up lives, illuminating why, in our judgment, those lives were significant. The justification for the obituary is in the story it tells....Our pages mirror the world of 1975 or 1965 or 1955, or even earlier: They’re a rearview mirror, reflecting the world as it was, not as it is, and not as we might wish it to have been."
• How an Obits Project on Overlooked Women Was Born (Amisha Padnani, NY Times Insider, 3-8-18) It is difficult for me as a journalist to see important stories go untold. But perhaps more important, as a woman of color, I am pained when the powerful stories of incredible women and minorities are not brought to light. Such lost tales are the concept behind Overlooked, a history project recalling the lives of those who, for whatever reason, were left out of The Times’s obit pages.
• OVERLOOKED (New York Times) Since 1851, obituaries in the New York Times have been dominated by white men. Now we're adding the story of 15 remarkable women.
• An 87-year-old’s obituary said Trump ‘hastened’ her death. A local paper wouldn’t run it. (Meagan Flynn, WaPo, 1-16-19) The Courier-Journal declined to publish: The Trump quip would need to be removed, the family was told, or the $1,684 obituary wouldn’t run at all. Now, more than two weeks after Williams’s memorial services, the paper and its owner, Gannett, are apologizing following a backlash on social media.
• Some of the best opioid coverage is not where you’d expect (Anna Clark, Columbia Journalism Review, 10-19-17) "Stories about the opioid crisis aren’t just being told in expansive features and smartly reported articles. They’re being told in the obituaries. They carry the most weight across the huge swaths of the country that are near-news deserts, like southwest Michigan, where the Jonatzkes live. In these places, there aren’t any deeply reported local stories about heroin use. But there are obituaries. Lots of them....When STAT News put together a snapshot of a year’s worth of obituaries for people who suffered addiction—one for each of the estimated 636 Americans who die of an opioid-related overdose each week—it relied on Legacy.com....OBITS HAVE LONG SERVED as our “collective memory,” reflecting what our society prizes and what it abhors. As recently as the 1950s, cancer was unmentionable in obituaries. Some believed it to be contagious, and it often affected body parts that were seen as unseemly—breasts, ovaries, cervix, prostate, testicles, colon, bladder—so families didn’t want the neighbors to know about it. Suicide has also long been a taboo in death notices. Today, another public health crisis shows no signs of letting up. About 59,000 people died of overdoses last year, a 19-percent increase over the previous year, making overdoses the leading cause of death for Americans under 50. Many grieving families feel that honesty is their first and best weapon. “Silence = Death,” as the old slogan goes.
• Concerns on Space and Revenue Spur Growth of Paid Obituaries (Felicity Barringer, NY Times, 1-14-02) ''Space and revenue concerns led newspapers to run fewer, shorter obituaries, or shift them from a news item to a classified advertising revenue category," reported a researcher in a recent study. The trend toward paid obituaries is accelerating. The advertising department may handle paid obituaries. Staff may write obits for the newsworthy.
• When Death Comes, and the Obituary Quickly Follows (David W. Dunlap, Times Insider, NY Times, 10-8-15) A behind-the-scenes look at how obituaries are prepared at the NY Times.
• Obituaries for the Pre-Dead (Margalit Fox, NY Times, 8-29-14) The Times currently has about 1,700 obits for “pre-dead” people on file, ranging from a few hundred words (if you are boring) to more than 10 thousand (if you are rich or famous).
• "The family isn't really your audience. I want people to read the obituary section because there's interesting stuff in there. If we write for the families, the families will read it when they lose somebody, but no one else will. I certainly have tried here to preserve the distinction between news material and classified advertising. It is the difference between biography, the business I'm in, and eulogy, which is what makes up most of the paids.'' ~ Bruce Keidan, the obituary editor of The Post-Gazette
• Early Deadlines (Christopher Beam, Slate, 8-27-09) How far in advance do newspapers write obituaries? And who writes them? How many obits do they keep in the can? "By the time Gerald Ford died in December 2006, his obituary writer had been dead for 11 months."
• Obituary for Newspaper Obituaries (Robin Heppell, FuneralFuturist.com, 2-19-09). Newspapers served for a century and more as a place to place and find obituaries. But newspapers got greedy, expecting ransom from families, and funeral directors began turning to other outlets, aided by Google. See Does Google Know that You Have Online Obits? (Robin Heppell, FuneralFuturist.com, 12-12-08)
• Summing Up a Life: Meeting the Obituary’s Challenge (Chip Scanlan, Poynter, 4-9-03) The "feature obit" is "the basic news report fleshed out with biographical information, including anecdotes, descriptions, quotes, reminiscences. Although feature obits are usually limited to prominent, influential or famous people, a new form — dubbed the “common man” (and woman) feature obit — emerged in the 1980s."
• A Death Notice for Obituaries? . Long-time political reporter James M. Naughton's critique of how the print media remember the dead. "If you're not already famous or notorious, don't expect original reporting for an obit, even at one of America's premier newspapers." Many newspapers are milking the public for paid obituaries, but good obituaries could actually increase readership in newspapers.
• How to Improve Obituary Coverage (the Readership Institute). The RI studied the three main approaches to obituary coverage: all free newsroom-produced obits, all paid obits, or a mixture of the two. Newspapers cutting back on obit space are short-sighted because "obituaries -- along with community announcements and stories about ordinary people -- have the highest potential of all news items to grow readership."
• Reviving Obituaries, Death Notices Before it’s Too Late (Rich Gordon, Poynter, 3-4-11). You can download a copy of the student report, "State of the American Obituary."
• Facebook: A new way to mourn? (Michael Morrison, for the Calgary Herald, : "An interesting thing happened the days following the Virginia Tech shootings. All over the Facebook community, groups were created to remember those who had been lost in the States' latest gun tragedy.
• Life Lessons from the Newtown Obituaries (Jen Singer, Momma Said, 1-4-13). "For adults, obits are about what they did. But for children, they’re about who they were. It’s about their spirit, that nebulous thing we sense when we’re around people we love and enjoy. As a result, the obituaries for the children of Newtown could end up less of a reminder of how they died than a lesson on how to live." Instead of items such as “She received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Oakland Chamber of Commerce," Jen wants something more like “James would often sing at the top of his lungs and once asked, ‘How old do I have to be to sing on a stage?’”
• Reflection Pages for Writing Your Own Obituary (Nora Cedarwood Young) This is a planning tool only. You don't have to use all the information, nor do others using it to write an obit about you.
• The self-penned obituary: Is this labor of love a trend or a movement? (Molly Gorny, Digital Dying, Funeralwise.com)
• Death Notice Double-Cross (Sid Kirchheimer, AARP Bulletin, March 2018) Be careful with obituaries—scam artists are reading. "When it’s time to write the notice, give the deceased’s age but leave out the birth date, middle name, home address, birthplace and mother’s maiden name. Don’t even include the names of family survivors. Otherwise you put family members at risk of scams like those described in his article.
• Why everyone should write their own obituary (Penny Lipsett, First Person, Globe and Mail, 8-30-18) Do it yourself and you don't end up with a string of facts, but give a real sense of your life. And it makes you stop and thin about what was important in your life to YOU. "It is not morbid exercise but, like having a will and a power of attorney, it just makes good planning sense....The effort will produce interesting results and may also provide insight as to how you want to curate the balance of your life. I found this to be the hidden benefit to all of this reflection and I am mindful of how I spend my days."
• Write Your Own Obit (Susan Gubar, Living with Cancer, NY Times, 7-19-18) Far from seeming narcissistic, undertaking a self-obituary can be a form of summation and of caregiving for those who may be in need of direction after we are gone.
• Are you ready to write your own obituary? (Sean Braswell, USA Today, 2-15-15)
• Obituary Writing 101 (Deborah Quilter, Next Avenue, 3-15-19) Tips for creating a meaningful farewell for someone, or for yourself -- including some questions to answer.
• Write your own obituary and get your life story right (Melissa Kossler Dutton, AP, TheStar.com, 10-8-16). Selfie obituaries are a growing trend for those who want to have the final say. “Who knows all the parts of your life? Your children know you as a parent. Your co-workers know you professionally. Your spouse probably knows very little about your life at work. They say your siblings are the people with you your whole life,” says Sarah White. “I wouldn’t leave this up to my siblings. They don’t know anything about me.”
• Having the Last Say: Capturing Your Legacy in One Small Story by Alan Gelb.
• Your Story, Your Words: How to Write Your Own Obituary (Katie Falzone, Legacy.com)
• Obit Kit
• Obituary template and sample format (Obituary Guide.com)
• (David McConkey, Obituary Guide, 5-12-14)
• Obituary Writing Tips (Orbituary Guide)
• Many get in the last words on their own lives (Boston Globe, 8-18-12)
• How to Write Your Own Obituary (Jim T. Miller, HuffPost, 12-28-15)
The self-penned obituary: Is this labor of love a trend or a movement? (Molly Gorny, Digital Dying, Funeralwise.com)
• Death Notice Double-Cross (Sid Kirchheimer, AARP Bulletin, March 2018) Be careful with obituaries—scam artists are reading. "When it’s time to write the notice, give the deceased’s age but leave out the birth date, middle name, home address, birthplace and mother’s maiden name. Don’t even include the names of family survivors. Otherwise you put family members at risk of scams like those described in his article.
• ‘See Ya Later, Suckas!’ The Obituary of a 5-Year-Old Boy in His Own Words (Christina Caron, NY Times, 7-14-18). Here's his obit: Garrett Michael Matthias
• Homeland actor James Rebhorn wrote his own touching obituary (Joel Eastwood, Toronto Star, 3-25-14). Here's his self-written obit, focused on his family His Life, According to Jim (St. Paul Lutheran Church, 3-24-14). Here's the NY Times obit, focused on his career: James Rebhorn, an Actor Often Playing a Man in a Suit, Dies at 65
• Many get in the last words on their own lives (Beth Teitell, Boston Globe, 8-17-12).
• Jane Catherine Lotter's obituary
• Barbara Summers obituary (Washington Post, Legacy.com, 5-10-19) "I first got the idea of writing my own obituary when I began to realize that I had a bad heart. I considered what I would want said at my own funeral and who would write it. Well, who knows me better than me? Here goes..."
• Malcolm Wells, in his own words and images, and then in the Courier Post, as the "father of modern earth-sheltered architecture."
• Peter Worthington in his own words (Toronto Sun, 5-14-13). The Toronto Sun's founding editor's fascinating obit about himself and his daring adventures as a reporter.
• Self-Written Obituary of Mom Who Lost Cancer Battle Will Melt Your Heart (Sydney Lupkin, Good Morning America, 4-2-15) Phillips, 69, of Orange Park, Florida, died just 29 days after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, but her sassy personality lives on in what has become a viral self-written obituary. Read Emily DeBrayda Phillips's self-penned obituary. Another story about her: 'I was born, I blinked and it was over': Woman writes sassy, compassionate obit before dying
• Gloria Louise (Aertker) Fralish. Her auto-obituary in The Sentinel (Pennsylvania)
• Elizabeth Sleasman's obit with a message After the dates part, she describes her life of addiction to alcohol and drugs and advises not to take the path she did. Very persuasive.
• Delaware man’s self-written obituary goes viral (AP, on Washington Post, 3-13-14). “Walter George Bruhl Jr. of Newark and Dewey Beach DE is a dead person..."
• Dying With Dignity and the Final Word on Her Life (Michael Winerip, NY Times, 8-5-13). One of the "few advantages" of dying of cancer, Jane Catherine Lotter wrote in the Seattle Times, "is that you have time to write your own obituary." Here's her full obit.
• Man writes his own obituary, comes clean about not really having Ph.D., stealing safe (Elizabeth Chuck, NBC News, 7-18-12)
• More Turn to Colorful, Confessing Self-Written Obituaries (Abby D. Phillip, ABC News, 8-19-12). Turn on the mute button to skip the Viagra commercials.
• 'He has had a number of other wives recently, none of which were his' (Steve Nolan, Mail Online, 6-4-13) Obituary of smooth-talking veteran John E. Holden goes viral.
• Val Patterson of Utah uses his self-written, light-hearted obituary to confess his sins (CBS News, 7-17-12)
• Massive Online US Obituaries Project Will Help Find Your Ancestors (Paul G. Nauta (@nautapg), FamilySearch,10-1-14) FamilySearch International (FamilySearch.org) and GenealogyBank (GenealogyBank.com) today announced an agreement to make over a billion records from historical obituaries searchable online. It will be the largest—and perhaps most significant—online US historic records access initiative yet. It will take tens of thousands of online volunteers to make GenealogyBank’s vast U.S. obituary collection more discoverable online. Find out more at FamilySearch.org/Campaign/Obituaries.
• 5 Tips for Finding Women’s Obituaries (Amy Johnson Crow, Modern Genealogy Made Easy, 3-2-16) Search via the husband's name, using both maiden and married name, or nicknames, for a surviving child or sibling, using last name and name of cemetery, and other practical tips. See also 3 Practical Strategies for Finding Female Ancestors (Amy Johnson Crow, 11-17-16) and Unusual Sources for Finding Female Ancestors (an interview with Jane E. Wilcox of Forget Me Not Ancestry (who specializes in female research and researching in New York state).
• GenealogyBank Obituaries, US, 1980-2014
• Search Newspaper Obituaries 1690-Today (GenealogyBank)
• U.S., Obituary Collection, 1930-2018
• Obituary websites (Cyndi's List's comprehensive links to obituary sites, A to Z)
• Obituaries Research Guide, USA (from DeathIndexes.com) Online obituary indexes, death notices, memorials, and finding aids
• Find obituary sites for 350 newspapers with tips on placing obits and creating tributes (Legacy.com)
• Obituary and Obituary-Index Links for U.S. and Canada (organized by state)
• 180 Obituary and Obituary Index Links from Canada (The Ancestor Hunt)
• Obituary Daily Times (index only, to historical newspapers, Rootsweb/Ancestry.com)
• Online Obituary Sites: They’re Not All the Same! (Jared Atchison, Online Obituary Reviews, 10-6-13)
• Legacy.com (provider of online obituaries and guestbooks for many newspapers)
• The Remembrance Project Lives of those among us. (WBUR radio, a prominent Boston radio station, soliciting obits of New Englanders).
• Obits for Life (only obituary listings posted through supporting funeral homes are featured on this site)
• Valley of Life
• Tributes. Includes Obituaries in the news
Advance obits. When Death Comes, and the Obituary Quickly Follows (David W. Dunlap, Times Insider, NY Times, 10-8-15). Within an hour after Apple's CEO announced Steve Jobs's death, Oct. 5, 2011, The Times had a 3,500-word obituary on its website, by John Markoff, with Steve Lohr. Mr. Markoff began his first draft in August 2007. “People are always dying in The Times who don’t seem to die in other papers, and they die at greater length and maybe even with a little more grace,” the columnist James Reston wrote in 1962. "To achieve this pre-eminence, The Times has long made a practice of keeping a deep reservoir of advance obits ready, so that no matter how prominent the subject — nor how close to deadline she might slip the bonds of the earth — we will be ready with a sweeping biography."
Advance obits, humor. Paul Noth cartoon in New Yorker about advance obits.
• An Interview with Ann Wroe, Obituaries Writer for The Economist (Isabelle Fraser, The Hairpin, 6-6-14) Not your ordinary obituary writer! "She told me that the job 'gives you a chance to write, really to write.] Her secret? Chronology doesn’t matter. 'You just have to try and get the essence of who they are, and it has to boil down to what was most important to them.' Her role is to meld the mind of a journalist with the creativity of a novelist....Wroe insists on only reading source material by her subject. 'I never go to any books written by anybody else. I go to the words on the paper, their diaries. I think it’s the only way to do it, because that’s the voice that has disappeared.'
• Lessons from "Obit," the Documentary (Pat McNees's blog, 11-15-16) Obit writers at the New York Times try to catch the arc of the person’s life—to capture someone “at the precise point where he or she became history.” How did they get to be how they are and where they are. They try to weave a historical spell, try to make the dead live again.
• The Journalists Who Wring Life Out Of Death: 'Obit' (Andrew Lapin, NPR, 4-27-17) A well-crafted obituary will enshrine its subject in the collective memory, but it's a balance between sentimental eulogy and tough reportage. Says one of the interviewees, "We put word limits on human beings."
• The art of obituary writing (Maureen O'Donnell and Neil Steinberg, Working the Story, Chicago Sun-Times, 6-6-18) You make sure your facts are right in every story, but in an obituary where there’s that extra level of importance, because it’s the final story that person’s gonna get. (Lots of anecdotes.)
• Obituaries Teach Life's Lessons (Peter Sipe, Boston Herald, 2-28-15). See Why Should Kids Read Obituaries? (Peter Sipe, Passed Made Present, Obituary Education) "Too often those who deserve our admiration — and our emulation — remain unsung. It doesn’t have to be this way. Obituaries provide character education with real characters." Obituaries for classroom use.
• 13 Secrets of Obituary Writers (Jake Rossen, Mental Floss, 9-20-18) How several obituary writers approach the delicate art of human posterity. "They look for the 'rosebud' moment." "It's better to die on certain days than others." "They have their own awards show called 'The Grimmys.'"
• For 'New York Times' Obit Writers, 'Death Is Never Solicitous Of A Deadline' (Fresh Air, NPR, 4-27-17). A delightful extension of what you learn in the documentary "Obit." Dave Davies interviews Margalit Fox and Bruce Weber, of the Times obit desk, at length.
Fox: In "a news obituary of 800 or a thousand words, there might be one or two sentences about the death and the other 98 percent of this remarkable narrative is every inch about the life....And I think the other great attraction is we are the most purely narrative genre in any daily paper. If you think about how an obit is structured, we are taxed with taking our subjects from cradle to grave, and that gives obits a built-in narrative arc, the arc of how someone lived his or her life. And who doesn't want to start the day reading a really good story?"
Weber: "Factually speaking, obituaries are the toughest beat on the paper." Fox: "And obits by definition are minefields for corrections because they are so larded of necessity with names and dates, the two most common and most easy things to get wrong, so we have to be more careful than it is humanly possible to be."
Toughest of all is an obit for a celebrity who dies unexpectedly early in life but late in the day (as actor Philip Seymour Hoffman did), with no advance obit on file, so staff writers have to scramble to crank something out in a couple of hours. Be thoughtful: Leave behind obit information the family can provide should you be one of the honored few the newspaper writes an obit for.
• She Knows How to Make an Exit. You’re Reading It. (Margalit Fox, NY Times, 6-18-18) A New York Times obituary writer for 14 years, Margalit Fox takes a crack at her own epitaph as she retires to write books. "In newsrooms across America, the obituary department was long a convenient Siberia. Obits was where they sent you if they wanted to punish you but didn’t quite have enough on you to fire you." Life on the obit desk.
• Some people are angry about how the media is covering Stephen Hawking (Alia E. Dastagir, USA Today, 3-14-18) Colleen Kelly Starkloff, co-founder of the Starkloff Disability Institute, which works to change attitudes about people with disabilities, suggests that 'journalists use "simple language" when writing about people with disabilities and pay attention to subtleties. There's a big difference between saying "Hawking became disabled at the age of 21" and saying "Hawking suffered from a degenerative disease since he was 21." Other tips:
Say a person has a disability, not that they're crippled, handicapped or a victim.
Say a person uses a wheelchair, not that they're restricted or confined to one, or that they're wheelchair bound.
When talking about people who don't have a disability, don't refer to them as "normal." Instead, use "able-bodied." '
• Mr. Bad News (Gay Talese's Esquire profile of New York Times obituary writer Alden Whitman). A Longform reprint. (Talese's first profile for Esquire.)
• Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Writing Obituaries (Emily Temple, Literary Hub, 2-22-18) But were afraid to ask.
• The Whole Family Gathered to Write Dad’s Obituary — Including Dad (Greg Marshall, Narratively, 7-25-17). As their father slowly succumbed to ALS, the family squabbled over and joked about which details to include in his obit. In two days he was going to unplug the device that kept him alive; friends came to say goodbye, and the family gathered in outspoken farewell.
• Adventures in the death 'zine biz (Steve Miller's address delivered to the Third Great Obituary Writers Conference, June 3, 2001, Las Vegas, NM)
• The art of the obituary: It’s a dying one (former obit writer Steve Chawkins, Nieman Storyboard, 2-21-17) ' Not so long ago, a full-time staff of more than a half-dozen editors and writers – plus freelancers and a librarian — worked long hours putting together news obits for the Los Angeles Times. Now the department has been pared down to one beleaguered editor, who writes when he’s not busy seeking help from other overworked staffers. Great obits are hard to do and harder to define — but they’re easy to spot. They’re concise, evocative and written with a sense of authority...Obits are often funny, because that’s life....Ledes are everything in obits, whether they’re four-paragraph anecdotes or more traditional, just-the-facts-ma’am declaratory sentences. Often, they’re supplied by the irony or contradictions inherent in people’s lives.
Ever wonder why the New York Times always details cause of death in an obit's second or third paragraph, citing a reliable source for the information? To avoid mistakes like these two:
• Katharine Sergava, the Star Of 'Oklahoma!' Ballet, Dies (Jack Anderson, NY Times, 12-4-2003) Correction Appended (edited here): December 5, 2003, Friday An obituary yesterday erroneously reported the death of Katharine Sergava, a dancer and actress who portrayed the dream-ballet version of Laurey, the heroine, in the original production of ''Oklahoma!'' Ms. Sergava, who is 94 and has lived in Manhattan for many years, was hospitalized in November and is now in a nursing home.
• Itsy-Bitsy Bikini, Big Mistake: Paul Vance Is Alive and Well (Jeff Leeds, NY Times, 9-28-06) Obituaries editor Bill McDonald explains why in this Q&A piece in an interesting Times series: Talk to the Newsroom: Obituaries Editor Bill McDonald (NY Times, 9-25-06). Can one buy a prime-time obituary in the Times? No. In that interview, McDonald explains, " "The paid notices are classified ads. They're gathered and placed in the paper or on the Web by the classified advertising department, which operates independently of the news department.... despite any misconceptions to the contrary, no one pays for an obit that appears as a news story."
• Some of the best opioid coverage is not where you’d expect (Anna Clark, Columbia Journalism Review, 10-17-17) Stories about the opioid crisis aren’t just being told in expansive features and smartly reported articles. They’re being told in the obituaries. They carry the most weight across the huge swaths of the country that are near-news deserts, like southwest Michigan, where the Jonatzkes live. In these places, there aren’t any deeply reported local stories about heroin use. But there are obituaries. Lots of them. These obituaries track the devastating human cost of a modern-day plague, challenge the stigma of addiction, and build a case for better public policy and social services. In some cases, the person who died specifically requested that their story be told honestly.
• The Art of the Obituary (listen to Walter Cronkite, on NPR)
• A Woman Like Me, Lesléa Newman's classic piece (for Obit Magazine) on watching obits for the woman who dies childless. ("Will I suffer? Will I become helpless and undignified? Will there be anyone at my bedside to pat my hand and tell me to look towards the light?") Alas, Obit Magazine seems to have disappeared into the ether!
• British obits compared with American obits (Adam Bernstein, "That Was Some Lady"), Post Mortem, WashPost 9-27-07
• Dying With Dignity and the Final Word on Her Life (Michael Winerip, Our Generation, NY Times, 8-5-13). Those closest to Jane Lotter recalled her as spunky, self-aware, and wise beyond her 60 years. So when she told her family that she planned to write her own obituary, they weren't surprised.
• The Facebook Obituary: A Helpful Guide to Mourning Celebrities (Michael Estrin, Situation Normal)
• Obituary writers reveal the surprising things they learn by writing about the dead ( Joshua Scott Albert, Ratter, Business Insider, 12-23-15) Ratter reached out to obituary writers all around the country to get a better understanding of the least talked about staple of most print publications.
• Nearly everyone gets an obituary; if not, journalists can and should still verify deaths (Steve Buttry, The Buttry Diary, 1-17-13)
• Obituary Writing in the Selfie Age ( James R. Hagerty, Wall Street Journal, 7-20-16) Workshops on writing your own obituary appeal to those of us who worry that our survivors will leave out facts and details about our lives that in many cases they may not even know about -- or that they will fail to capture the essence of our lives. You can probably find a workshop (or a writer) near you, to help you write yours.
• When death comes in installments (Jack Shafer, Reuters, 7-12-13) Tongue-in-cheek on obit timing: "The lengthy illness of a former or current world leader tends to agitate the hard-core news hounds. Their attitude: if you’re going, please go. As Liebling observed, only 10 percent of the obituary will contain any real news, anyway, the remainder is just a history lesson or clip job."
Facebook: A new way to mourn? (Michael Morrison, for the Calgary Herald, : "An interesting thing happened the days following the Virginia Tech shootings. All over the Facebook community, groups were created to remember those who had been lost in the States' latest gun tragedy.
Good Bye! the late, unorthodox Journal of Contemporary Obituaries (archives 1996-2002)
How to Improve Obituary Coverage (the Readership Institute). The RI studied the three main approaches to obituary coverage: all free newsroom-produced obits, all paid obits, or a mixture of the two. Newspapers cutting back on obit space are short-sighted because "obituaries -- along with community announcements and stories about ordinary people -- have the highest potential of all news items to grow readership."
Life Lessons from the Newtown Obituaries (Jen Singer, Momma Said, 1-4-13). "For adults, obits are about what they did. But for children, they’re about who they were. It’s about their spirit, that nebulous thing we sense when we’re around people we love and enjoy. As a result, the obituaries for the children of Newtown could end up less of a reminder of how they died than a lesson on how to live." Instead of items such as “She received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Oakland Chamber of Commerce," Jen wants something more like “James would often sing at the top of his lungs and once asked, ‘How old do I have to be to sing on a stage?’”
Liu Xiaobo, China’s leading human-rights campaigner (The Economist, 7-15-17) The man who called himself “Doomsday’s survivor” “saw himself as a Nietzschean lone wolf, a nihilist, even a renegade, a stammering loner who would stand out from the crowd and shout; but there ought to be room for him, he thought, and people like him.” China scoffed at his Nobel peace prize (he was the first Chinese person still living in the country to receive a Nobel award of any kind). See also Chris Buckley's obit, Liu Xiaobo, Chinese Dissident Who Won Nobel While Jailed, Dies at 61 (NY Times, 7-13-17).
Lives Lived, on the Facts & Arguments page (every day the Globe and Mail's Lives Lived column features someone who has died)
A Lurid Tale From 1857 Is Revived in Granite (Andy Newman, NY Times, 9-19-07). A new headstone marks the burial place of Emma Cunningham, acquitted of killing her lover.
Margaret Thatcher and misapplied death etiquette (Glenn Greenwald, Guardian, 4-8-13)
Obit magazine (samples online were good reading but the magazine seems to have bit the dust)
Obituary forum, blog for the Society of Professional Obituary Writers, spinoff from Life on the Death Beat
Obituary writing resources (Neil Reisner's helpful site)
Obituary Search Engines and Indexes at Libraries, Universities and Societies (Ancestor Search)
Orphans (Steve Silberman, in Fray, issue 3, on Sex & Death). Silberman's absorbing tribute to his father.
Post Mortem (interesting Washington Post blog about "the end of the story," by Joe Holley, Patricia Sullivan, Adam Bernstein, and Matt Schudel)
Society of Professional Obituary Writers (for folks who write obituaries for a living)
Someone Dies. But That Is Only the Beginning. (Arthur S. Brisbane, NY Times, 4-14-12) The Times Public Editor on the Gray Lady's process of selecting who the paper will write obits about, and how they write about them. ""Obituaries, as the Times presents them, are not necessarily efforts to capture the totality of our subjects' lives," [Paul] Vitello said in an e-mail. "The focus is on capturing the aspects of their lives that most affected history, or the culture, or the fabric of a profession in which they were highly regarded."
Yvonne Brill and the Beef-Stroganoff Illusion (Amy Davidson, Close Read, New Yorker blog, 4-1-13). There was much to-do about a NY Times obit about a woman rocket scientist, which started thus: "She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children. 'The world’s best mom,' her son Matthew said." Two items among many:
• Obit Gaffe: In rocket scientist Yvonne Brill’s obit, was it so bad to mention the beef stroganoff? (Katie Roiphe, Slate, 4-2-13)
• ‘The Finkbeiner Test’ (Curtis Brainard, CJR, 3-22-13) Seven rules to avoid gratuitous gender profiles of female scientists
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See also Eulogies and Video Tributes
Classic Literary Obituaries, From Virginia Woolf to Marcel Proust (Emily Temple, Literary Hub, 1-13-17) Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Emily Dickinson, Ernest Hemingway, Charlotte Bronte, Langston Hughes, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Jack London, Oscar Wilde, Anne Sexton, Leo Tolstoy, Herman Melville, Anais Nin, Marcel Proust.
Bella Abzug, 77, Congresswoman and a Founding Feminist, Is Dead (Laura Mansnerus, On This Day, New York Times Learning Network, 4-1-98) ''There are those who say I'm impatient, impetuous, uppity, rude, profane, brash and overbearing. Whether I'm any of these things or all of them, you can decide for yourself. But whatever I am -- and this ought to be made very clear at the outset -- I am a very serious woman.''
Diana Athill Dies at 101; Wrote Cleareyed Memoirs of Love and Sex (Margalit Fox, NY Times, 1-24-19) "Diana Athill, an Englishwoman who wrote a series of critically lauded memoirs chronicling her romantic and sexual liaisons over much of the 20th century, but who attained international literary celebrity in her 90s with the publication of an installment about the waning of desire, died on Wednesday in London. She was 101." About her sixth memoir, Somewhere Towards the End, book reviewer Jenny Diski wrote: “Such a book is in itself a rare enough thing, but a book about old age written by a woman with a cold eye for reality and no time for sentimental lies is as rare as — well, as rare as a thoughtful discussion about a woman’s sexuality after the age of 60.” It's worth reading more than one obit for her, so try also Diana Athill, British literary editor turned award-winning memoirist, dies at 101 (Harrison Smith, WaPo, 1-24-19) H/T Ruta Sevo.
Mona Ackerman had the gift (Richard Cohen, about the woman he lived with and loved, Washington Post, 12-10-12)
Margaret Atwood's tribute to poet and teacher Jay MacPherson (delivered at Victoria College 6-11-12)
Donald Bain, Widely Read Author (but Not by That Name), Dies at 82 (Sam Roberts, NY Times obit, 10-26-17) "Donald Bain, the pseudonymous author of the “Murder, She Wrote” novels, Margaret Truman’s “Capital Crimes” mysteries and “Coffee, Tea or Me?,” the supposed memoir of two saucy airline stewardesses, died on Saturday in White Plains. Over five decades as a ghostwriter he published novels, biographies, westerns and historical romances, mostly under fictitious names or credited to more marketable bylines; vanity memoirs attributed to corporate executives; and even long articles disguised as excerpts from nonexistent books....Mr. Bain served in the Air Force while working as a disc jockey and announcer for radio and television stations in Texas. He then moved to New York, where he struggled to support his new family by selling children’s shoes at a department store and peddling typewriters. His fortunes changed when a cousin, a freelance writer who was overloaded with assignments, referred a writing project to him and connected him with a book editor."
David Bald Eagle, Lakota Chief, Musician, Cowboy And Actor, Dies At 97 (Camila Domonoske, The Two-Way, NPR, 7-27-16) "He danced with Marilyn Monroe. He drove race cars. He parachuted into enemy gunfire at Normandy. He played professional baseball. He was a leader not just of his tribe, but of the United Native Nations. He was an advocate for Native people. And he was a bridge between the past and present — a man who, in his childhood, heard stories from survivors of the Battle of Little Bighorn....His biography is filled with things that would have killed lesser men."
Mourning John Perry Barlow, the Bard of the Internet (Steven Levy, Wired, 2-7-18) "He was an influential voice and an intimate participant in the early days of Wired, a co-founder and spiritual inspiration for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and the guy who promoted cyberspace as deftly as Steve Jobs hyped Apple. By the time he was done, he was more famous for proselytizing the internet than he was for co-writing “Cassidy” and other Grateful Dead classics."
Lili Bermant, who died after a hiking accident, at age 83, was interviewed by the Yiddish Book Center 11-10-10, thank goodness. You can hear her online.
Yogi Berra, Yankee Who Built His Stardom 90 Percent on Skill and Half on Wit, Dies at 90 (Bruce Weber, NY Times, 9-23-15) This long obit about a beloved figure "got a wonderful amount of attention" and "the reader mail was hilarious," says Weber. "It was very satisfying. And it was really a lot of fun to write."
Doris Betts, Novelist in Southern Tradition, Dies at 79 (Paul Vitello, NY Times, 4-24-12)
Remembering Detroit's Shakespeare, Richard Bissell (Katherine Fischer, Telegraph Herald, Dubuque, Iowa, 6-7-13, posted on Elmore Leonard's website)
Michael "Flathead" Blanchard (Denver Post) "Weary of reading obituaries noting someone's courageous battle with death, Mike wanted it known that he died as a result of being stubborn, refusing to follow doctors' orders and raising hell for more than six decades. He enjoyed booze, guns, cars and younger women until the day he died."
Todd Bol, creator of the Little Free Library movement, dies at 62 (Jenna Ross, Star-Tribune, 10-18-18) "Todd Bol hammered together the first Little Free Library. Then he built a movement around it. Bol believed the now-ubiquitous little boxes of books — and the neighbors who cared for them — could change a block, a city, the world. So he brought them to front yards all over, often installing them himself."
Anthony Bourdain, Renegade Chef Who Reported From the World’s Tables, Is Dead at 61 (Kim Severson, Matthew Haag and Julia Moskin, NY Times Business section, 6-8-18) “I should’ve died in my 20s. I became successful in my 40s. I became a dad in my 50s,” he said in a 2016 interview. “I feel like I’ve stolen a car — a really nice car — and I keep looking in the rearview mirror for flashing lights.”
Ray Bradbury. Voyage to the Otherworld: A New Eulogy for Ray Bradbury (Margaret Atwood, Paris Review, 8-15-17) "His imagination had a dark side, and he used that dark twin and its nightmares in his work; but to the waking world, he presented a combination of eager, wonder-filled boy and kindly uncle, and that was just as real. In an age of writing classes, he was self-taught; in an age of spin, his was an authentic voice, straight from the heartland; in an age of groomed images, he was a natural."
Jimmy Breslin, Legendary New York City Newspaper Columnist, Dies at 88 (Dan Barry, NY Times, 3-19-17) "Jimmy Breslin, the New York City newspaper columnist and best-selling author who leveled the powerful and elevated the powerless for more than 50 years with brick-hard words and a jagged-glass wit, died at his home in Manhattan. He was 88, and until very recently, was still pushing somebody’s buttons with two-finger jabs at his keyboard....With prose that was savagely funny, deceptively simple and poorly imitated, Mr. Breslin created his own distinct rhythm in the hurly-burly music of newspapers....Mr. Breslin was counted among the writers credited with inventing “New Journalism,” in which novelistic techniques are used to inject immediacy and narrative tension into the news....[he] scoffed at this supposed contribution, saying that he and others had merely introduced Dickens-like storytelling to a new generation." Here's his famous column on the gravedigger. Clifton Pollard: Digging JFK Grave Was His Honor and Corey Kilgannon's story about the second time he dug a grave for JFK: Breslin and Son of Kennedy Gravedigger Recall the Famous Job (NY Times, 11-22-13). Do read Jonathan Alter's great profile in the New Yorker, Jimmy Breslin and the Lost Voice of the People (3-20-17).
Burt Britton, a Book Lover if Ever There Was One, Dies at 84 (James Barron, NY Times, 8-9-18) "In the 1970s, a rope stretched across an aisle amid the stacks of books that climbed like stalagmites from the basement floor of the Strand Bookstore in Manhattan. Whether it was there to keep the customers out, or a certain employee in, remains unclear"....Burt Britton was "the kind of idiosyncratic New York personality who was not a household name but influenced the influential."
Dr. Joyce Brothers, On-Air Psychologist Who Made TV House Calls, Dies at 85 (Margalit Fox, NY Times, 3-13-13). "Dr. Brothers arrived in the American consciousness (or, more precisely, the American unconscious) at a serendipitous time: the exact historical moment when cold war anxiety, a greater acceptance of talk therapy and the widespread ownership of television sets converged. Looking crisply capable yet eminently approachable in her pastel suits and pale blond pageboy, she offered gentle, nonthreatening advice on sex, relationships, family and all manner of decent behavior."
Walter George Bruhl Jr., DuPont Co. retiree (CapeGazette.com, 3-11-14). This self-pinned obit went viral.
Leslie Buck, Designer of Iconic Coffee Cup, Dies at 87 (Margalit Fox, NY Times, 4-29-10) Laszlo Büch survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald, landed in New York, became marketing director of a paper cup company, and to crack New York City's hot-cup market, designed The Amphora, a classical cup designed to attract the city's many Greek diners. You can still see them all over New York.
Gudrun Burwitz, Ever-Loyal Daughter of Himmler, Is Dead at 88 (Richard Sandomir, NY Times, 7-6-18) She was a “dazzling Nazi princess, a deity among these believers in the old times,” Oliver Schrom, the author, with Andrea Ropke, of the book “Silent Help for Brown Comrades” (2001), once said in an interview....By all accounts, Ms. Burwitz’s pride in being Himmler’s daughter never wavered — not even when she was shunned."
A tribute to Judith Butcher (Society for Editors and Proofreaders). This tribute to the author of Copy-editing: The Cambridge Handbook for Editors, Copy-editors and Proofreaders provides a mini-history of how sub-editing (copyediting) developed in England. "The unreliable and costly tradition of trusting the printer’s readers to pick up errors after typesetting was replaced by a methodical system of preparing manuscripts for typesetting and eliminating errors in advance."
Ann Caracristi, who cracked codes, and the glass ceiling, at NSA, dies at 94 (Martin Weil, Washington Post, 1-11-16) One of her strengths was reconstructing enemy code books.
George Carlin, Comic Who Chafed at Society and Its Constraints, Dies at 71 (Mel Watkins and Bruce Webster, NY Times 6-24-08)
Peter Carson (obit by Peter Mayer, Guardian, 1-24-13) Former Penguin editor-in-chief who guided the publisher into the corporate era
Daphne Caruana Galizia, journalist who assailed the powerful, dies in car bombing (Harrison Smith, Washington Post, 10-17-17) A reform-minded political columnist, Mrs. Caruana Galizia had written an editorial for the Sunday Times of Malta, her country’s largest newspaper, calling for the commander of Malta’s armed forces to resign because his children had been linked to drug trafficking....Writing and editing the Malta Independent's magazine’s stories, mainly about Maltese cuisine, was her day job. In her free time, she posted articles to a blog called Running Commentary, a website that made her Malta’s most prominent investigative reporter and, as Politico wrote in one recent profile, “a one-woman WikiLeaks.”
Judi Chamberlin. Advocate For People With Mental Illnesses Dies (Joseph Schapiro, Morning Edition, NPR, 1-19-10) She joined a little radical ragtag group, Mental Patients Liberation Front, and fought for civil rights for people with mental illness. She used "mad pride" as her e-mail address and took the pejorative out of the word "mad."
Leslie Ray Charping (a bluntly honest Texas obit: 'No services will be held, there will be no prayers for eternal peace and no apologizes to the family he tortured. Leslie's remains will be cremated and kept in the barn until "Ray", the family donkey's wood shavings run out.'
Tom Christian, Descendant of Bounty Mutineer, Dies at 77 (Margalit Fox, NY Times, 8-23-13) "Tom Christian, known as the Voice of Pitcairn for his half-century-long role in keeping his tiny South Pacific island, famed as the refuge of the Bounty mutineers, connected to the world, died at his home there on July 7....With his death, Pitcairn’s permanent population stands at 51."
Leonard Cohen, Epic and Enigmatic Songwriter, Is Dead at 82 (Larry Rohter, NY Times, 11-10-16) He turned to songwriting in hopes of expanding the audience for his poetry. In 2008, Mr. Cohen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which described him as “one of the few artists in the realm of popular music who can truly be called poets” and praised him for having “raised the songwriting bar.”
Jeffrey H. Cohen (Legacy.com). Daily Kos (1-21-16) turned this one viral with "a real beauty of a piece. It covers his life as a chiropractor who ended up with a business that included many sports luminaries, olympic and professional. The final line is probably the best quote on the internet today: 'In lieu of flowers, please do not vote for Donald Trump'"
Madeleine P. Cosman, 68, Medieval Expert, Dies (Margalit Fox, NY Times, 3-19-06) See Ms. Fox's comments about the ending of this obit, in this story about the process of obit writing.
Merce Cunningham, Dance Visionary, Dies (Alastair Macaulay, NY Times, 7-27-09)
Elijah Cummings, Powerful Democrat Who Investigated Trump, Dies at 68 (Sheryl Gay Stolberg and David Stout, NY Times, 10-17-19) Representative Elijah E. Cummings, the son of sharecroppers, rose to become one of the most powerful Democrats in Congress and a central figure in the impeachment investigation of President Trump. (Watch the short video!)
Ted Dabney, Atari co-founder whose engineering paved the way for Pong, dies at 81 (Harrison Smith, Washington Post, 6-5-18)
Evelyn Y. Davis, activist shareholder and ‘queen of the corporate jungle,’ dies at 89 (Harrison Smith, Washington Post, 11-5-18) “She very, very early on identified these corporate governance problems in our largest companies and was a consistent advocate and, some would say, an irritant,” said Charles M. Elson, who leads a governance center at the University of Delaware....Her tactics, said [Nell] Minow, "made it easy to dismiss the legitimacy of her points, which were usually excellent. The questions she raised were the same things investors are raising today.” (RIP, Evelyn Y. Davis: An irrepressible shareholder activist for the ages (Jena McGregor, On Leadership, WaPo, 11-8-18)
Ruby Dee, a Ringing Voice for Civil Rights, Onstage and Off, Dies at 91 (Bruce Weber, NY Times, 6-13-14)
Ari Dougan, Girl who befriended St. Louis Blues and danced through fight with cancer dies at 11 (Joel Currier, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 11-11-17) Arianna “Ari” Dougan, a St. Louis girl diagnosed with neuroblastoma cancer at 3 who developed a special friendship with Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko. Post-Dispatch reporter Tom Timmermann tweeted Saturday night that the “Blues had a pregame moment of silence for Ari Dougan; it may have been the longest and quietest moment of silence I’ve seen.” (Watch the video, hankie in hand.)
Roger Ebert In Review: A 'Fresh Air' Survey . This potpourri of old interviews with and by Roger Ebert ran 4-5-13, at a time when many of us were saddened by his death. Here are a few of the moving (and charming) items that appeared (or reappeared by link on Facebook) that week.
• I do not fear death (Roger Ebert, Salon, 9-15-11). "I will pass away sooner than most people who read this, but that doesn't shake my sense of wonder and joy"
• Roger Ebert Hails Human Existence As 'A Triumph' (The Onion's tongue-in-cbeek salute, 4-4-13). CHICAGO—Calling the overall human experience “poignant,” “thought-provoking,” and a “complete tour de force,” film critic Roger Ebert praised existence Thursday as “an audacious and thrilling triumph.”
• Filmmakers Remember Roger Ebert (Forrest Wickman collects social media tributes for Slate, 4-5-13)
Daniel J. Edelman, founded influential public relations firm (Emily Langer, Washington Post, 1-15-13) For Butterball, he dreamed up the Turkey Talk-Line. For the Toni Co, he used six sets of twins for the campaign “Which Twin Has the Toni?” He helped promote architect Maya Lin’s once-controversial design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Harlan Ellison Dies at 84; Prolific, Irascible (Science) Fiction Writer (Richard Sandomir, NY Times, 6-29-18) "Harlan Ellison, a furiously prolific and cantankerous writer whose science fiction and fantasy stories reflected a personality so intense that they often read as if he were punching his manual typewriter keys with his fists...[quoting Isaac Asimov:] “He claims he is five feet four inches tall, but it doesn’t really matter. In talent, energy and courage, he is eight feet tall.”
Nora Ephron Dies at 71; Writer and Filmmaker With a Genius for Humor (Charles McGrath, New York Times 6-26-12). More on aging and her own death, including her own words:
• Nora Ephron's Hollywood Ending (Alessandra Stanley, NY Times, 6-27-12)
• Regrets? I wish I'd worn a bikini every day for a year: Nora Ephron, who died this week, passes on the advice she wished she'd known sooner (Nora Ephron, Daily Mail, 6-29-12, extract from her book I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman)
• 'I Remember Nothing': Nora Ephron, Aging Gratefully (NPR, Morning Edition, interview about her book I Remember Nothing: and Other Reflections
• Charlie Rose's interview with Nora Ephron in 2010
John Fairfax, Who Rowed Across Oceans, Dies at 74 (Margalit Fox, NY Times, 2-18-12)
Shulamith Firestone. Death of a Revolutionary (Susan Faludi, The New Yorker, 4-15-13). Feminist Shulamith Firestone helped to create a new society. But she couldn’t live in it. A moving and fascinating piece about a powerful woman and the society-changing but flawed feminist movement.
Tribute to Emily Fenichel
John Cooper Fitch, Glamorous Racer With a Flair for Danger, Dies at 95 (obit by Douglas Martin, NYTimes, 10-31-12), as recommended in Living well is the best revenge (Ask Amy Daily, 11-2-12)
Jessie Foveaux, 100, Dies; Sold Her First Book at 98 (Douglas Martin, NY Times, 10-27-99) "In a 1997 auction Warner Books paid $1 million for the rights to publish the book....Her book, never intended for publication, ''just poured out,'' said Charley Kempthorne, a part-time farmer who taught a writing class at the Manhattan Adult Learning Center. 'She had bottled it up for many, many years.' " Her memoir was never a bestseller but got wide pre-publication publicity.
Naomi Parker Fraley, the real Rosie the Riveter, dies at 96 (Margalit Fox, NY Times, 1-23-18) A story of mistaken identity corrected.
Gloria Louise (Aertker) Fralish (The Sentinel, Pennsylvania, 9-29-14) Written by her son.
Arlene Friedman Shepherd: The Life She Loved (McNees, Writers & Editors, 12-28-12). Arlene Friedman--a career mentor--has died (Gregory Mowery, Leaving New York, 9-4-12). She persuaded her doubtful Fawcett colleagues to bid skyhigh for paperback rights to Mario Puzo’s novel, The Godfather. “Italians don’t read,” said Fawcett’s salesmen, and the rights went to another paperback house, for the unheard-of sum of $400,000. When the other house got cold feet, Fawcett was given a chance to top their bid, and Arlene talked them into doing so. Nobody doubted her after that. The Godfather made millions and Arlene’s name was gold.
Dizzy Gillespie: The Chief of Entertainers (David Grogan, American Scholar, Winter 2018) Trumpet virtuoso Dizzy Gillespie was a jazz prophet, a musical genius, and a scatterbrained whirlwind
Ina Ginsburg, socialite who wrote about D.C. elite for Warhol’s magazine, dies at 98 (Adam Bernstein, Washington Post 11-9-14)
Isabella Goodwin, New York City’s First Female Police Detective (Corey Kilgannon, Overlooked No More, New York Times, 3-13-19) Goodwin, a police matron overseeing female inmates, earned her detective shield for going undercover as a scrubwoman to expose and nail a bank robber who went by the name Eddie (the Boob) Kinsman.
Remembering Ruth Graham (Judy Bachrach, winner of Obit Writer award)
Joanne Grant Documented Grassroots Efforts on Civil Rights (Jennifer Bayot, NY Times, 1-15-05) Joanne was editor/author of Black Protest, which I oversaw as her editor at Fawcett. We were both surprised and thrilled when the mass market paperback original (a documentary history) was reviewed in the daily New York Times, along with a hardcover book.
Florence Green, Last World War I Veteran, Dies at 110 (Margalit Fox, NY Times, 2-8-12) The last veteran of World War I was a waitress, and for 90 years no one knew her name.
Alexander Grothendieck, Math Enigma, Dies at 86 (Bruce Weber and Julie Rehmeyer, NY Times, 11-14-14)
Ruth Gruber, a Fearless Chronicler of the Jewish Struggle, Dies at 105 (Robert D. McFadden, NY Times, 11-17-16) An intrepid photojournalist and author who documented Stalin’s gulags, life in Nazi Germany and the plight of Jewish refugees intercepted by the British on the infamous passage of the Exodus to Palestine in 1947.
Donald Hall, Who Gave His Life to Work and Eros (Henry Cole, Paris Review, 6-25-18) “I once gave him a terrible review, and we didn’t speak for years. ‘I know I was pissed at you for ten or twelve years,’ he wrote. ‘I take it back. You are good.’” See also An Editorial Exchange: Donald Hall and George Plimpton (Donald Hall, Paris Review, 6-27-18) In this undated letter, which is an ars poetica of sorts, Hall argues with Plimpton about the quality of Beat poems, what makes a poem good or “fake,” and the importance of poetic history.
Oscar Handlin, Historian Who Chronicled U.S. Immigration, Dies at 95 (Paul Vitello, NY Times, 9-23-11) In a piece about the process of writing obits: "Perhaps not the most intriguing life, he thought, after one day’s reporting. On day two, though, Mr. Vitello found one more person to talk to, someone who saw how Mr. Handlin’s writings had overturned the conventional narrative of the day — of America as frontier. “We are a nation of immigrants — that was this guy’s concept,” Mr. Vitello said. “Before that, we were a nation of conquistadores. It was a very big deal.” He added: “If I had gone with what I had the first day, I would have had a bunch of quotes that were respectful, and a bunch of books. But I would not have had this great idea about how this person changed the way we look at America.”
Margaret Heldt, Hairdresser Who Built the Beehive, Dies at 98 (Bruce Weber, NY Times, 6-13-16) 'One reason for its initial popularity was that the hair spray held it in place for days at a time. In a 2011 interview with the British newspaper The Daily Mail, Ms. Heldt said, “I used to tell my clients, ‘I don’t care what your husband does from the neck down, but I don’t want them to touch you from the neck up.’ ” ' The delightful story of a hairdresser's inventive creation of a hairstyle landmark.
Zelma Henderson, Who Aided Desegregation, Dies at 88 (Margalit Fox, NY Times, 5-22-08) Fox: "a black Kansas beautician who was the sole surviving plaintiff in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the landmark school desegregation case of 1954."
Columnist Nat Hentoff dies at 91 (Hillel Italie, AP, 1-7-17) Nat Hentoff, an eclectic columnist, critic, novelist and agitator dedicated to music, free expression and defying the party line, died Saturday at age 91.
One Life: Kate (Katherine Hepburn, as remembered by the National Portrait Gallery) There's no reason an ordinary person's life can't be remembered in this same way, with great photos and more details than the normal obit page allows that one could afford.
Edward Herman, 92, Critic of U.S. Media and Foreign Policy, Dies (Sam Roberts, NY Times, 11-21-17). See also RIP Edward Herman, Who Co-Wrote a Book That's Now More Important Than Ever (Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone, 11-14-17) The book: Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky.
Capital Gazette shooting victim Rob Hiaasen: A joyful stylist, a generous mentor (Jean Marbella, Baltimore Sun, 6-28-18) “He was both a tender-hearted features writer and a jaded journalist,” said former Sun columnist Susan Reimer, who lives in Annapolis. “He absolutely saw it all, and with a very clear eye.” Friends were surprised that someone who loved to write as much as Hiaasen turned to editing. But it turned out he had a gift of working with new reporters and drawing them into the profession he loved.
Thomas Hofeller, Republican Master of Political Maps, Dies at 75 (Michael Wines, NY Times, 8-21-18) "...after Republicans swept many state legislative elections in 2010, giving them control over the political maps that would be drawn after that year’s census, Mr. Hofeller gained an almost mythic reputation as an architect of the party’s comeback. He was extolled — or lambasted — in magazines and books and online as a father of the Republican strategy of cementing political control by controlling redistricting, and as the Michelangelo of the modern gerrymander." See Deceased G.O.P. Strategist’s Hard Drives Reveal New Details on the Census Citizenship Question ( Michael Wines, NY Times, 5-30-19) Files on his hard drives "showed that he wrote a study in 2015 concluding that adding a citizenship question to the census would allow Republicans to draft even more extreme gerrymandered maps to stymie Democrats."
Billie Holiday Dies Here at 44; Jazz Singer Had Wide Influence (New York Times, 7-18-59)
Al Howie was an eccentric ultramarathoner who ran across Canada (Tom Hawthorn, Globe and Mail, 5-16-18) Mr. Howie stood out as an eccentric even in the offbeat world of road runners. He looked like a skinny Rob Roy, sounded like Scotty from Star Trek, and had the prickly temperament of Groundskeeper Willie from The Simpsons. (Winner of a Grimmy Award from the Society of Professional Obituary Writers for best long form obit for 2017.
Betty James, Who Named the Slinky Toy, Is Dead at 90 (Dennis Hevesi, NY Times, 11-24-08) Her husband invented it, but he left.
Louie Kamookak: To Franklin's Grave (The Economist, 4-12-18) The Inuit oral historian famous for his role in discovering one of the lost ships of polar explorer Sir John Franklin. See also Nick Walker's obit (Canadian Geographic, 3-23-18) and Susan Ferrier MacKay's (Globe and Mail, 4-13-18).
Steven N. Kaufmann. The Death of an Unknown Man Who Knew Everyone (Cathy Horyn, NY Times, 5-23-04) Stevie was not important. He never did a single thing of note in his life except find a million ways to enjoy it. Stevie lived his life in reverse of the natural order: he retired at age 25 and went to work at age 70. And he never would have gone to work if his modest inheritance had not run out at the age he supposed his life would.
Antoinette K-Doe, 66, Who Turned Club Into Shrine to Husband, Dies (William Grimes, NYTimes, 2-28-09)
Cookie lady Debbie Kuehn, who tried to change the world one treat at a time, has died (Allyson Reedy and Libby Rainey, The Know, 7-12-17) Owner of Santa Fe Cookie Company treated downtown workers to 3 cookies for $1.
Alice E. Kober, 43; Lost to History No More (Margalit Fox, NY Times, 5-11-13) "As an obituary writer at The Times, I have the great, improbable pleasure of reconstituting the lives of interesting people. And few people, it turns out, are as interesting as the influential obscure." Despite the efforts of investigators around the globe, Linear B (an unknown language in an unknown script) was one of the world’s great unsolved puzzles. An amateur was credited with figuring out that it was an early dialect of Greek, but he did so based on the painstaking studies of this overworked, underpaid Brooklyn College classics professor.
David Koch, Billionaire Who Fueled Right-Wing Movement, Dies at 79 "Since the 1970s, the Kochs have spent at least $100 million — some estimates put it at much more — to transform a fringe movement into a formidable political force aimed at moving America to the far right by influencing the outcome of elections, undoing limits on campaign contributions and promoting conservative candidacies, think tanks and policies....Among the groups they supported was the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec), an organization of conservative state legislators and corporate lobbyists. Alec, as the group is known, drafts model state legislation that members may customize for introduction as proposed laws to cut taxes, combat illegal immigration, loosen environmental regulations, weaken labor unions and oppose gun laws. As part of their longstanding crusade for lower taxes and smaller government, the Koch brothers in recent years opposed dozens of transit-related initiatives in cities and counties across the country...Campaigns coordinated and financed by Americans for Prosperity fought state legislation to fund transportation projects, mounted ad campaigns and public forums to defeat transit plans, and organized phone banks to convince citizens that public transit was a waste of taxpayers’ money."
Renee Zlotnick Kraft, Washington fur heiress (Adam Bernstein, Washington Post, 8-20-06). Socialite Added Flair, Style and Humor to D.C. Events. (Her daughter Bayla Kraft is a good friend of mine.)
The Legend of Chris Kyle (Michael J. Mooney, D Magazine, 3-18-13). The deadliest sniper in U.S. history performed near miracles on the battlefield. Then he had to come home.
Ethel Lang, Britain's oldest person, dies aged 114 K's longest-surviving person - the last living subject of Queen Victoria - dies in Barnsley nursing home (Victoria Ward, The Telegraph, 1-16-15) Mrs Bates said her mother “loved all kinds of dancing”, which she enjoyed until she broke her hip at the age of 98. However, she still managed to dance at her 106th birthday.
Eugene Lang, Investor Who Made College Dreams a Reality, Dies at 98 (Enid Nemy and Joseph Berger, NY Times, 4-8-17) He will be best remembered for his impulsive gesture in June 1981, when he was invited to deliver the commencement address to 61 sixth graders at Public School 121 on East 103rd Street. "“it dawned on me that the commencement banalities I planned were completely irrelevant. So I began by telling them that one of my most memorable experiences was Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, and that everyone should have a dream,” he said. “Then I decided to tell them I’d give a scholarship to every member of the class admitted to a four-year college.” His "I Have a Dream" Foundation "established a year-round program of academic support with a mentor and tutoring for each student, and sponsored cultural and recreational outings." See also Former Student Remembers Life Of Education Donor Eugene Lang (Audie Cornish talks with Juan Martinez, one of the many thousands of students ("dreamers") the philanthropist Eugene Lang helped send to college.
Antonia Larroux (paid death notice, NY Times, 3-3,4-13). Affectionate humor for a woman who clearly would have wanted it that way.
Harper Lee obituary (Eric Homberger, The Guardian, 2-19-16) She wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, a story of race relations and legal injustice set in the American south in the 1930s, which was first published in 1960, won the Pulitzer prize for fiction in 1961, was made into an Oscar-winning film in 1962 and went on to sell more than 40 million copies worldwide. It has never been out of print and is perhaps the most widely loved American novel of the past half-century.
Meadowlark Lemon Dies at 83; Harlem Globetrotters’ Dazzling Court Jester (Bruce Weber, NY Times, 12-28-15)
Elmore Leonard, Who Refined the Crime Thriller, Dies at 87 (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times, 8-20-13). Here are his 10 Rules for Writing: "Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle" (NYTimes, 7-16-01)
David Levine. Starting With Lines, but Ending With Truth (Michael Kimmelman, An Appraisal, Art & Design, NY Times, 10-30-09)
The Life and Death of Anthony Lewis, a 'Tribune of the Law' (Andrew Cohen, The Atlantic, 3-25-13). The author of Gideon's Trumpet changed the way legal issues are covered and understood in America.
William Liebenow, 97, Dies; PT Boat Skipper Rescued Kennedy (Daniel E. Slotnick, NY Times, 2-28-17) "Under the cover of darkness on Aug. 7, 1943, Lt. William Liebenow skippered his patrol torpedo boat into enemy waters in the South Pacific. His mission was to rescue the sailors of PT-109 who had survived for days on inhospitable islands after a Japanese destroyer had rammed their boat, splitting it in two and killing two crewmen. Among the 11 crew members who survived the sinking of PT-109 was a bunkmate of the lieutenant’s, the boat’s 26-year-old skipper, John F. Kennedy."
Call of the Ages: Jennie Litvack died on June 27th (The Economist, 7-11-19) Along with the birth of her sons, she liked to say that blowing the shofar brought her closer to God than anything else in her life.
Jane Catherine Lotter's paid self-written obituary (Seattle Times), which went viral (see Huff Post story and follow-up.
Edward Lowe Dies at 75; a Hunch Led Him to Create Kitty Litter (Robert McG. Thomas Jr, NY Times, 10-6-96)
Norma Lyon, the ‘Butter-Cow Lady,’ Dies at 81 (Paul Vitello, NY Times, 6-27-11) ABOUT THE OBIT: "Appreciating a life in the context of its own time is essential. [In this obit, Mr. Vitello] noted it wasn’t just her quirky story that made Norma Lyon interesting. He saw her as a woman of her time (born in 1929), with an artistic bent but few career paths open. So she became the official sculptor, in butter, of cows — and once, of a diorama of the Last Supper — at the Iowa State Fair." ~ from Someone Dies--But That Is Only the Beginning (about the process of obit writing)
Remembering polymath scholar Dick Macksey: “There was no one like him, and no one will follow in his tracks.” A bouquet of remembrances (of his range of literary knowledge, of his ability to make connections, of his fascinating lectures (which you wouldn't understand right away), of his owning more books than anyone, and knowing where he got them -- with photographs of his amazing home libraries.
Clare Marantz. Check out these articles by her daughter and three grandchildren: Choosing Not to Choose (Robin Marantz Henig, The New Old Age, New York Times, 4-30-09); How do you explain the internet to your grandmother? (Jess Zimmerman, The Guardian, 11-25-14); Eight Voicemails from My Grandmother, Who Is Very Upset About the Apparent Death of My Career (Samantha Henig, The Awl, 10-1-14); and Sure and Certain Hope (Andrew Marantz, Killing the Buddha).
Graham Mason (The Telegraph). "GRAHAM MASON, the journalist who has died aged 59, was in the 1980s the drunkest man in the Coach and Horses, the pub in Soho where, in the half century after the Second World War, a tragicomedy was played out nightly by its regulars." (Jack Shafer's favorite obit.)
Charles McCarry, CIA officer who became a preeminent spy novelist, dies at 88 (Matt Schubel, WaPo, 3-3-19) “There is simply no other way to say it,” Otto Penzler, a leading expert on crime and espionage fiction, wrote in the New York Sun in 2004. “Just the straightforward, inarguable truth: Charles McCarry is the greatest espionage writer that America has ever produced.”
Colleen McCullough dies at 77; author of 'Thorn Birds,' mysteries (Steve Chawkins, Los Angeles Times, 1-29-15)
Mike McGraw, Pulitzer-winning investigative reporter and ‘real-life legend,’ dies (Judy L. Thomas, Laura Bauer, and Matt Campbell, The Kansas City Star, 1-6-18) McGraw loved being a journalist so much that he never stopped reporting — even to the very end. See also Mickey’s Empty Seat (Kirstin A. McCudden, Flatland, 1-8-18)
William Freddie McCullough
Lyra McKee, 29, Journalist; Killed Covering Northern Ireland Unrest (Ed O’Loughlin, NY Times, 4-19-19) 'Ms. McKee spoke of her generation as the Ceasefire Babies — “those too young to remember the worst of the terror because we were either in nappies or just out of them when the Provisional I.R.A. cease-fire was called.” “I was four,” she wrote, adding: “We were the Good Friday Agreement generation, destined not to witness the horrors of war but to reap the spoils of peace. The spoils never seemed to reach us.” ... Shortly before she died, she posted a picture of the rioting on Twitter with the words “Derry tonight. Absolute madness.”...“The tale of Belfast is a tale of two cities,” she said. “On the one hand, if you’ve got prospects and a talent that’s been recognized, it’s a great city. But, when you have nothing, the city has nothing to offer you. It can be a really cruel place for working-class kids....I’m from a working-class community. I’ve experienced how the city has preconceived ideas about working-class kids, and what we’re capable of achieving.”
Mirka Mišak was reserved, conservative and Catholic. And the story of how she came to grow pot for a bunch of gay guys in the heart of the Castro district is not about politics or free living or radicalism or rebellion. It is about love. She supplied them with chicken soup and pot for years, until the last of them died.How a pot grower taught me about unconditional love (Petula Dvorak, WaPo, 2-14-19)
Walter Mischel, Psychologist Who Devised The Marshmallow Test (Remembrance for) (Julie Carli, WBUR News, 9-21-18) Mischel was most famous for the marshmallow test, an experiment that became a pop culture touchstone (the results of which were often misinterpreted). "His experiment was a test of delayed gratification and, over the years, the test epitomized the idea that there are specific personality traits that we all have inside of us that are stable and consistent and will determine our lives far into the future...."People can use their wonderful brains to think differently about situations, to reframe them, to reconstrue them, to even reconstrue themselves," Mischel said...."What my life has been about is in showing the potential for human beings, to not be the victims of their biographies — not their biological biographies, not their social biographies," he said. "And to show, in great detail, the many ways in which people can change what they become and how they think."
Toni Morrison. An Appreciation: Toni Morrison and the Need for Tomorrows (Sam Sacks, WSJ,8-9-19) The late novelist’s celebrity makes it easy to forget the grass-roots origins of her finest novels. She wrote, in her words, ‘village literature.’ In case you can't access that, two more appreciations (not obits):
Showing Toni Morrison what Beloved meant to me took 20 years. (Rich Benjamin, LitHub, 8-7-19) "The first time I read Beloved, as a college junior, it flew over my head. The next time I read it, as a young hooligan living in the East Village, I could grasp its creative whispers, its social messages—if only tentatively. Picking the novel up again in 2017 with more life experience, I finally got the book—deep in my cortex, instinctively in my blood. It was my fifth reading. Now, Beloved remains the single novel with increasing resonance to my life, to our complicated nation, to creativity, to parent-children relationships....“I am grateful because well before she inspected my notes in the margins, Toni Morrison gave a ragtag group of people like me the permission and inspiration to write—and to continue writing.”
Ghosts in the House; How Toni Morrison fostered a generation of black writers. (Hilton Als, New Yorker, 10-19-03) 'Situating herself inside the black world, Morrison undermined the myth of black cohesiveness. With whiteness offstage, or certainly right of center, she showed black people fighting with each other—murdering, raping, breaking up marriages, burning down houses. She also showed nurturing fathers who abide and the matriarchs who love them. Morrison revelled in the complications. “I didn’t want it to be a teaching tool for white people. I wanted it to be true—not from outside the culture, as a writer looking back at it,” she said. “I wanted it to come from inside the culture, and speak to people inside the culture. It was about a refusal to pander or distort or gain political points. I wanted to reveal and raise questions.” '
The New York Times Book of the Dead: 320 Print and 10,000 Digital Obituaries of Extraordinary People, ed. by William McDonald
Mike Nichols. Simon Callow pays tribute to film-maker Mike Nichols (The Guardian, 11-29-14) Their first meeting, a script reading for Postcards from the Edge, felt like a reunion.
Obits from the Telegraph (which show a distinctive U.K. obit style)
Sandra Day O'Connor. From Triumph To Tragedy, 'First' Tells Story Of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (Nina Totenberg, All Things Considered, NPR, 3-15-19) This isn't really an obit, but listening to it on the car radio it sounded like one, with Nina Totenberg's wonderful combination of intelligence, empathy, and good humor. Read the whole thing!
Robert Pear, scrupulous chronicler of health care for the New York Times, dies at 69 (Emily Langer, Washington Post, 5-8-19) John Rother, the president and chief executive of the National Coalition on Health Care, described Mr. Pear as “the single most important journalist covering health-care policy in Washington for a generation.”
Lana Peters, Stalin’s Daughter, Dies at 85 (Douglas Martin, NY Times, 11-28-11) "Her three successive names were signposts on a twisted, bewildering road that took her from Stalin’s Kremlin, where she was the “little princess,” to the West in a celebrated defection, then back to the Soviet Union in a puzzling homecoming, and finally to decades of obscurity, wandering and poverty."
Otto Petersen, the Voice of Vulgarity, Dies at 53 (Margalit Fox, NY Times, 4-15-14). A ventriloquist, the flesh-and-blood half of Otto and George, a comedy team renowned for vulgarity. George Dudley, his wooden companion of four decades, handled the rough stuff.
Tony Pike, playboy and hedonistic master of Ibiza hotel, dies at 84 When Queen frontman Freddie Mercury was working on the duet album “Barcelona” with Spanish operatic soprano Montserrat Caballé in 1987, he stayed at what he called his “home away from home” — the infamous Pikes Hotel on the Mediterranean island of Ibiza. The resort was built, founded and run by Mercury’s friend Tony Pike, an English-born Australian adventurer and playboy who had turned a ruined farmhouse into Spain’s beacon hotel for sex, drugs and rock-and-roll.
John Platt, C.I.A. Officer Who Befriended K.G.B. Agent, Dies at 80 (James Risen, NY Times, 2-6-17). Mr. Platt, trying to recruit a Cold War foe to spy for the United States, succeeded only in becoming friends with him.
George Plimpton, Urbane and Witty Writer, Dies at 76 (Richard Severo, NY Times, 9-26-03) Perhaps Mr. Plimpton's career was best summarized by a cartoon that once appeared in The New Yorker. In it, a patient looks at the surgeon preparing to operate on him and demands, "How do I know you're not George Plimpton?" See also the Guardian obit "Fashionable American writer who founded the Paris Review and turned sports journalism into an art form."
Portraits of Grief. After the September 11 terrorist attacks, the New York Times published these short biographical sketches as a way to remember the lives of victims of the event. Ten years later, the Times revisited families to learn how they have coped, changed and carried on since that day: The Reckoning . Selected portraits rotate on a regular basis.
Marion Pritchard, Dutch rescuer of Jewish children during the Holocaust, dies at 96 (Emily Langer, Washington Post, 12-20-16) “It was a beautiful spring morning, and it was a street I had known since I had been born, and all of a sudden you see little kids picked up by their pigtails or by a leg and thrown over the side of a truck,” Mrs. Pritchard said in an interview published in the volume “Voices From the Holocaust” by Harry James Cargas. “You stop but you can’t believe it.”
Appreciation of Wilfrid Rall (1922-2018) (a four-hour video presented to his lab). Wilfrid studied Physics at Yale University and worked on the Manhattan Project in Chicago during WWII. In addition to his contributions to mathematical neuroscience and his work on the Manhattan Project, he was one of the scientists who signed the letter organized by Leo Szilard asking Roosevelt not to drop the bomb on a city, but to do a deterrent demonstration test to persuade the Japanese to surrender. Roosevelt died before the letter arrived, and Truman went ahead with the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. (H/T to Artie Sherman for this link.) See also Guest Comments, Legacy.com, Washington Post). An example of how to bring life to a scientist's story.
Lou Reed (1942-2013) Outsider Whose Dark, Lyrical Vision Helped Shape Rock ’n’ Roll (Ben Ratliff, NY Times, 10-27-13). Or listen to Terry Gross interview Bill Bentley, Reed's publicist from 1988 to 2004: Never Back Down: Fresh Air Remembers Lou Reed (10-29-13, with transcript and excerpts from interviews with members of the Velvet Underground. And here's what his wife, Laurie Anderson, posted in the Easthampton Star.
Willie Reed, who risked his life to testify in the Emmett Till murder trial, dies at 76 (Emily Langer, Washington Post 7-24-13). Reed risked his life at 18 to appear as a surprise witness in the prosecution of the white men accused of the crime. After fleeing Mississippi for his safety nearly 60 years ago, he lived in Chicago under a different name — first in secrecy and later in relative obscurity.
Uwe Reinhardt, 80, Dies; a Listened-to Voice on Health Care Policy (Sam Roberts, NY Times, 11-15-17) Stuart H. Altman, a professor at Brandeis University, wrote, “No one was close to him in terms of impact on how we should think about how a decent health care system should operate.”
Janet Reno, First Woman to Serve as U.S. Attorney General, Dies at 78 (Carl Hulse, NY Times, 11-7-16) She rose from a rustic life on the edge of the Everglades to become attorney general of the United States — the first woman to hold the job — and her eight years in that office placed her in the middle of some of the most divisive episodes of the Bill Clinton presidency. Compare this with Stephanie Hanes's obit: Janet Reno, former U.S. attorney general, dies at 78 (WaPo, 11-7-16). (Facebook link has better title: "Janet Reno, fiercely independent U.S. attorney general of 1990s, dies at 78.") Two different approaches to an interesting life.
Dick Rich, Who Helped Redefine TV Advertising, Dies at 84 (Paul Vitello, NY Times, 12-16-14) Cofounder of an advertising firm "that helped define the freewheeling spirit of television advertising in the 1960s," Mr. Rich "created two fast-paced, trendsetting spots" that increased sales for their clients and "were funny enough to bear repeated watching." One was for Alka Seltzer, "No Matter What Shape Your Stomach's In," and the other for the extra-long Benson and Hedges cigarette. His ads depended on images, not slogans; his test: “W.I.W.I.J.: Will It Work In Japan.”
Cokie Roberts: The Personification Of Human Decency (Nina Totenberg Remembers Cokie Roberts, All Things Considered, NPR, 9-17-19) See and listen also to Family, Friends and Colleagues Remember Pioneering Journalist Cokie Roberts (Michel Martin hosts, NPR, 9-17-19) Part of Remembering Cokie Roberts, 1943-2019, a special series.
Jack Robbins: idler, recluse, reprobate (1942-2016) (video, in 7 parts, on YouTube). The kind of memorial service that makes you laugh and remember the real person, with affection and respect. A big moviegoer, he told his wife Sonia in his final days, first, "I feel like a character in a right-to-die movie," and days later that he felt like he was in a movie "that had gone on too long....He wanted to say 'Cut,' but he couldn't because it wasn't his movie."
Jerry Robinson, Godfather of a Comic-Book Villain, Dies at 89 (Dennis Hevesi, NY Times, 12-8-11)
A. M. Rosenthal, Editor of The Times, Dies at 84 (Robert D. McFadden, NY Times, 5-11-06) An unusually honest obit about a complex man and editor. An addendum of sorts (a terse respond to an author's complaint): Memo from A.M. Rosenthal to Mr. Hersh (6-24-76)
At Nipsey Hussle Funeral, Music and Tears as Rapper Is ‘Sent Off Like a King’ (Jennifer Medina, Jose A. Del Real and Tim Arango, NY Times, 4-11-19). Thousands gathered in Los Angeles to honor the rapper, who was gunned down in his neighborhood. (Even the news stories read like obits.) See also Nipsey Hussle, a hometown hero, immortalized at L.A memorial (Jonathan Landrum Jr., Mesfin Fekadu, AP/Los Angeles Times, 4-11-19) I've never meet Nipsey, but I've heard his music through my daughters, and after his passing I had the chance to learn more about his transformation and his community work. While most folks look at the Crenshaw neighborhood where he grew up and only see gangs, bullets and despair, Nipsey saw potential. He saw hope. He saw a community that even through its flaws taught him to always keep going. He choice to invest in that community rather than to ignore it," read a letter from Pres. Barack Obama. Hussle had recently purchased the strip mall where The Marathon is located and planned to redevelop it, part of Hussle's broader ambitions to remake the neighborhood where he grew up and attempt to break the cycle of gang life that lured him in when he was younger.<center><a href="#top"><font color="#FF0000">[Back to Top] </font></a></center>
Oliver Sacks. Remembering Oliver Sacks, A Pioneer Of Narrative Medicine (Rita Charon, Health Affairs blog, 9-30-15) What must it have been like to be one of the patients he wrote about? "He entered the narrative world of his subject with his curiosity opened wide. Probably more important, he entered with the conviction that he could make sense of what he perceived. He was convinced that if he took enough time and discernment, he would be able to see the meaning of what to others seemed bizarre or crazy."
J. D. Salinger, Literary Recluse, Dies at 91 (Charles McGrath, NY Times, 1-28-10) "J. D. Salinger, who was thought at one time to be the most important American writer to emerge since World War II but who then turned his back on success and adulation, becoming the Garbo of letters, famous for not wanting to be famous, died on Wednesday at his home in Cornish, N.H., where he had lived in seclusion for more than 50 years."
Bernice Sandler, ‘Godmother of Title IX,’ Dies at 90 (Katharine Q. Seelye, NY Times, 1-8-19) When she was teaching part-time at the University of Maryland, she was told that she wasn’t being hired for a full-time job because “you come on too strong for a woman.” Another interviewer complained that women stayed home when their children were sick. Another rejected her by saying that she was “just a housewife who went back to school.” She was good and mad. And that led her to become the driving force behind the creation of Title IX, the sweeping civil rights law of 1972 that barred sex discrimination by educational institutions that received federal funding.
Helen Jean Medakovich Sarchielli (1939-2000) One of my dearest friends, gone way too soon, and unforgettable.
Rabbi Herschel Schacter Is Dead at 95; Cried to the Jews of Buchenwald: ‘You Are Free’ (Margalit Fox, NY Times, 3-26-13) Fox: 'who as a young United States Army chaplain in 1945 was able to cry to the Jews of Buchenwald, “Ihr zint frei!” (“You are free!”)'
Toshi Seeger, Wife of Folk-Singing Legend, Dies at 91 (Douglas Martin, NY Times, 7-11-13)
Jane Shafron's recipes The cooking website of a wonderful colleague and friend, who died far too young in January 2019. Posted there is a tribute to Jane, including a moving farewell note from her mother.
Burt Shavitz, cantankerous hippie co-founder of Burt’s Bees, dead at 80 (Justin Wm. Moyer, WaPo, 7-6-15) "Shavitz was pushed out 15 years after Burt’s Bees founding for, he said, having an affair with an employee. Burt’s Bees was sold in 2007 to Clorox for more than $900 million, making Shavitz akin to the McDonald brothers — the name of a small-town product mostly cut out of its enormous success....Luckily, Shavitz didn’t seem to mind missing out on 93 percent of a windfall. 'In the long run, I got the land, and land is everything,' he told a filmmaker for the 2013 documentary 'Burt’s Buzz.' "
Ruth M. Siems, Inventor of Stuffing, Dies at 74 (Margalit Fox, NY Times, 11-23-05) "Stove Top made it possible to have the stuffing without the turkey, probably something no cook would ever have dreamed of but people eating Thanksgiving dinner might well have thought of: 'Take away everything else; just leave me here with the stuffing!' It's kind of like eating the chocolate chips without the cookies."
John Simon, Tireless Editor of Grant’s Papers, Dies at 75 (Bruce Weber, NY Times, 7-10-08) In editing of the papers of Ulysses S. Grant, Mr. Simon created a new standard for the organization of historical documents. He "changed the nature of documentary editing, bringing the perspective of a biographer rather than a cataloger to the enterprise....He matched incoming correspondence with outgoing, so researchers would have a complete episode. He included editorial commentary that was more substantial than footnotes. He wrote introductions to each volume.”
Huston Smith, Author of ‘The World’s Religions,’ Dies at 97 (Douglas Martin and Dennis Hevesi, NY Times, 1-1-17). In many ways the obit in the Los Angeles Times (Mary Rourke, 1-5-17) is more interesting, and I quote: ' “Religion gives traction to spirituality,” he told a crowded lecture hall at UCLA in 1999. “Speaking for myself, it is good to have a grounding of perceptible depth in one of the religious traditions.” Put another way, he said, “If you are looking for water, it is better to drill one 60-foot well than 10 six-foot wells.'
Caroll Spinney, Big Bird’s Alter Ego on ‘Sesame Street,’ Is Dead at 85 (Robert D. McFadden, NY Times, 12-8-19) Besides the sweet-natured giant yellow bird, he also played the misanthropic bellyacher Oscar the Grouch.
Harry Weathersby Stamps (Legacy.com, March 2013) "Harry was locally sourcing his food years before chefs in California starting using cilantro and arugula (both of which he hated). For his signature bacon and tomato sandwich, he procured 100% all white Bunny Bread from Georgia, Blue Plate mayonnaise from New Orleans, Sauer's black pepper from Virginia, home grown tomatoes from outside Oxford, and Tennessee's Benton bacon from his bacon-of-the-month subscription....Finally, the family asks that in honor of Harry that you write your Congressman and ask for the repeal of Day Light Saving Time. Harry wanted everyone to get back on the Lord's Time."
Rick Stein (Delaware Online, News Journal, 10-7-18) "People who knew Stein have reported his occupation as everything from gourmet chef and sommelier to botanist, electrician, mechanic and even spy novelist. Police say the volume of contradictory information will make it nearly impossible to pinpoint Stein's exact location." See A daughter’s hilarious obituary unravels her father’s mysterious life. (Allison Klein, WaPo, 10-11-18)
Jacqueline Steiner, 94, Lyricist Who Left Charlie on the M.T.A., Dies during her stay in Cambridge, Mass., she and Bess Lomax Hawes wrote “Charlie on the M.T.A.” for a local politician. (Listen to YouTube video of the Kingston Trio singing it.
Charles Stough of the ‘Burned Out Newspapercreatures Guild’ (BONG) passes away (Charles Apple, 11-23-11). See also Charles Senour "Charley" Stough II (Dayton Daily News obit). Died Nov. 22, 2011. The Bong columns as of 6-16-16 were archived on Topica. Stough wrote the author of Warm Spit: A Novel of Texas Crime and Culture.
Roger W. Straus Adored A Rascal--And So Did I (Philip Weiss, Observer.com, 6-7-04). "Roger was a great publisher. Farrar, Straus & Giroux was a noble holdout. Isaac Bashevis Singer. Derek Wolcott. Etc. But to know Roger, and love him, wasn’t really about Literature and Culture. I’m trying to remember if I ever saw him wield a pen. Roger loved pleasure and fun and mischief, Roger fled bores like the plague and then told you about them. Roger never had a pious sober or correct thought in the three years that I hung around him. Why is it that the people who do anything interesting seem to take themselves so unseriously? Roger W. Straus Jr. was an elegant rascal; Roger was bad."
Remembering Punch Sulzberger: A Newsroom and a Beloved Publisher (Arthur Gelb, Opinion, NY Times 9-30-12). See also Arthur O. Sulzberger, Publisher Who Transformed The Times for New Era, Dies at 86 (Clyde Haberman, NY Times, 9-29-12)
Ruth Tankersley, Tribune scion, D.C. publisher and Arabian horse breeder, dies . (Adam Bernstein, Washington Post, 2-6-13) Kristie Miller's mother, a memorable figure.
Overlooked No More: Annie Edson Taylor, Who Tumbled Down Niagara Falls Into Fame (Jesse McKinley, Overlooked, New York Times, 5-1-19) She was the only person to survive going over Niagara in a barrel, but the glamour that followed was short-lived.
Recy Taylor, Who Fought for Justice After a 1944 Rape, Dies at 97 (Sewell Chan, NY Times,12-29-17) (The name pronounced “REE-see.”) See also The Rape of Recy Taylor’ Takes a Deep Dive Into Systemic Injustice (a review by Jeannette Catsoulis of the documentary, NY Times,12-14-17). And see Historians are a great resource. Journalists, be sure to give them credit. (Danielle McGuire, Columbia Journalism Review, 4-28-18)
Paul W. Tibbets Jr., Pilot of Enola Gay, Dies at 92 (Richard Goldstein, NY Times, 11-2-07) "His mother, the former Enola Gay Haggard, grew up on an Iowa farm and was named for a character in a novel her father was reading shortly before she was born....General Tibbets expressed no regrets over his role in the launching of atomic warfare. “I viewed my mission as one to save lives,” he said. “I didn’t bomb Pearl Harbor. I didn’t start the war, but I was going to finish it.”
Alice K. Turner Dies at 75; Playboy Editor Kept Fiction Alive (Sam Roberts, NY Times 1-24-15)
Martin K. Tytell, Typewriter Wizard, Dies at 94 (Bruce Weber, NY Times, 9-12-08) His "knowledge of typewriters was a boon to American spies during World War II, a tool for the defense lawyers for Alger Hiss, and a necessity for literary luminaries and perhaps tens of thousands of everyday scriveners who asked him to keep their Royals, Underwoods, Olivettis (and their computer-resistant pride) intact..." “Mrs. Tytell said on Thursday that she had met her husband in 1938 when he went to an office she was managing and sold her a typewriter. And he said, ‘Come work for me, and I’ll marry you,’ ” Mrs. Tytell recalled. “And I said, ‘That’s no inducement.’ ”
Jon Van, longtime Tribune science writer, dies (Bob Goldsborough, Chicago Tribune, 7-11-19) “He knew his stuff, and created a space in the paper that really distinguished it for its scientific coverage, which was a hallmark of the Tribune for many years.” Until Jon was president of the National Association of Science Writers, says Paul Raeburn, "NASW social events were held in musty hotel ballrooms. He changed that when NASW (and AAAS) met in New Orleans. He arranged a party on a riverboat cruise." He was a jazz fan who always knew where the music was.
Jean Vanier, who gave homes and dignity to the intellectually disabled, dies at 90 (Emily Langer, WaPo, 5-7-19) 'Although driven by his Catholic faith, Mr. Vanier gradually led the L’Arche network into more ecumenical work. Observers described his theology as one of simple, concrete, tender acts: bathing a fellow human being, dining together, offering a reassuring touch. Other humanitarians approached people with disabilities “either from the philanthropic or the altruistic point of view,” Higgins said, complacent in the assumption that it fell to the powerful to help the powerless. Mr. Vanier upended that philosophy “by saying that no, those who have the power — those who are able — need the disabled and the powerless” and that “they give us gifts we couldn’t have otherwise.”'
Sander Vanocur, TV Newsman Who Covered Kennedy, Dies at 91 (Douglas Martin, NY Times, 9-17-19) A veteran correspondent, he was the last surviving journalist who questioned Nixon and Kennedy in the first televised presidential debate. Mr. Vanocur, along with John Chancellor, Frank McGee and Edwin Newman, was one of NBC’s “four horsemen” — correspondents who prowled the floor of national conventions in the 1960s in search of news developments and tantalizing tidbits to report.
Joseph Wapner, judge on ‘The People’s Court,’ dies at 97 (Adam Bernstein, WaPo, 2-26-17) “The People’s Court,” which the silver-haired Wapner hosted from 1981 to 1993, was a syndicated half-hour show that turned private arbitration of small-claims cases into highly engrossing entertainment....For a viewing audience weaned on courtroom dramas such as “Perry Mason,” the Wapner program was a stark departure. Instead of invented murder and mayhem, “The People’s Court” featured unscripted, real-life grievances between plaintiffs and defendants who could be tangent-prone, inarticulate or alarmingly naive. Disputes centered on nonpayment for goods and services, unwise lending of money to shady friends and family members, purchases in which the buyer did not beware and altercations between people and their neighbors’ animals. Each litigant was paid about $250 to appear on TV.
Terry Wayne Ward. Terry Ward's obituary. He despised “uppity foods” like hummus, which his family lovingly called “bean dip” for his benefit. Another funny obit that went viral, as described by Marwa Eltagouri in The hysterical obituary that made strangers miss a man they never knew (Washington Post, 2-10-18). He "escaped this mortal realm...leaving behind 32 jars of Miracle Whip, 17 boxes of Hamburger Helper and multitudes of other random items that would prove helpful in the event of a zombie apocalypse....He is preceded in death by his parents Paul and Bernice Ward, daughter Laura Pistello, grandson Vincent Pistello, brother Kenneth Ward, a 1972 Rambler and a hip."
Honoring Lynn Wasnak, a fellow writer whose Many Voices Press advocated for those suffering from abuse, trauma, and dissociative disorders.
Dan Wegner was a beloved figure in the world of social psychology. See The Life of Dan Wegner: A Meeting Place for Joy and Intelligence (Thalia Wheatley, Scientific American, Dec. 2013: "The late Harvard professor pioneered no less than five research sub-disciplines and mentored a generation of social psychologists who still celebrate his mix of deep inquiry spiced with raucous humor") and his final published paper, The Internet Has Become the External Hard Drive for Our Memories (Scientific American, Dec. 2013).
Ida B. Wells (1862-1931) (Caitlin Dickerson, Overlooked, New York Times, 2018) Took on racism in the Deep South with powerful reporting on lynchings. (Very slow loading. Be patient.)
Manson Whitlock, Typewriter Repairman, Dies at 96 (Margalit Fox, NY Times, 9-8-13) "Over time he fixed more than 300,000 machines, tending manuals lovingly, electrics grudgingly and computers never.... 'I’ve heard about them a lot, but I don’t own one, and I don’t want one to own me.' "
William P. Wilson, Kennedy’s TV Aide for Historic 1960 Debate, Is Dead at 86 (Bruce Weber, NY Times, 12-11-14) This obituary is unusual in that it starts with a long, interesting anecdote about John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon and the famous television debate that tipped the scales in JFK's favor in the presidential campaign of 1960 -- because JFK's makeup was subtler and more effective than Nixon's, and because standing behind a single-pole podium, JFK in his dark suit cut a better figure than Nixon in his bland gray suit did. "The telecast conferred a previously unachieved celebrity on Kennedy and propelled him to a lead in the polls that he never surrendered." Not until paragraph 5 do we read about the man the obituary is about: " The man who negotiated the terms of the debate for Kennedy, who insisted on the single-pole podium and who applied Kennedy’s makeup was William P. Wilson, who died on Saturday..."
Tom Wolfe, Best-Selling Author and Genre-Breaking Journalist, Dies At 88 (Tom Vitale, All Things Considered, NPR, 5-15-18) "I've always contended on a theoretical level that the techniques ... for fiction and nonfiction are interchangeable," he said. "The things that work in nonfiction would work in fiction, and vice versa." To get it right, Wolfe said he first did extensive research, then he made an exhaustive outline — and then he started "having fun."
Betty Joe Wolff (Gulf Coast News Today, 2-27-18) Betty Joe Wolff founded and ran Page & Palette, one of the most successful independent bookstores in the South (in Fairhope, Alabama). 'After "putting her face on" every morning, she was a body in motion that stayed in motion....Many people attribute the rich writing culture in Fairhope to Granny's decades of promoting books and bringing in authors from around the nation to our little town." One of those obits that went viral, for lines like "Frugal to a fault, she could make a box of zip lock bags last 3 1/2 years."
Yoochan. The Student Who Became the Teacher (Steven Ward, Free Code Camp, Medium, 6-20-16) "Real teaching is the analog act of taking someone by the hand and exploring a topic together. What makes a good teacher isn’t an encyclopedic knowledge of a topic. It’s the wisdom to use just enough of your knowledge to make the journey together interesting."
Frank Zachary, Editor and Art Director, Dies at 101 (Robert D. McFadden, NY Times, 6-13-15)
Chiune Sugihara, Japan Diplomat Who Saved 6,000 Jews During Holocaust, Remembered (Jaweed Kaleem, Huffington Post, 1-24-13). Not an obit, but a remembrance--of a hero.
Spock. In Memory: A Fat Kid’s Love For Mr. Spock (Steven Schlozman, WBUR's CommonHealth: Reform and Fantasy, 3-3-15) "Like all good fictional characters, Spock’s challenges pose profound and fundamental questions for humanity.What is normal? Do we have to choose how to behave or can we just be who we are? And who ARE we in the first place?"
Han Suyin (John Gittings, The Guardian, 11-4-12). Chinese-born author best known for her 1952 novel A Many-Splendoured Thing.
Many of these are collections of obituaries--no better way to learn the art than to read the good ones.
• The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries by Marilyn Johnson. Read a selection from this delightful book about "vivid obituaries" and obituary writers on Marilyn's website.
• Life on the Death Beat: A Handbook for Obituary Writers by Alana Baranick, Stephen Miller, and Jim Sheeler.
• The New York Times Book of the Dead: 320 Print and 10,000 Digital Obituaries of Extraordinary People, ed. by William McDonald
• Come to Judgment:Divers Notables Who Found Fame and Earned Obits in The New York Times by Alden Whitman
• Life After Death: The Art of the Obituary by Nigel Starck. Check this interesting review by Graeme Leech (The Australian News, 8-26-06). "Murdoch's revolution brought more space to fill, hence editors turned to obituaries, with their long narratives and steady supply of subjects. A new breed of obituary editors appeared, apparently bent on ridding their columns of euphemisms and dullards....Starck looks at what it takes to make it to the obituary page. He points out that women are in a minority of about one to four. Then he suggests six areas that may attract an editor: fame, association with fame, single acts of notoriety, heroism, villainy and eccentricity. Perhaps some of these criteria tend to exclude women, with the exception of those wives or mistresses of famous men, in which case it can be an excuse to revisit the life of the man, if deceased."
• The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood (a novel -- have mystery, half love story)
• The Very Best of the Daily Telegraph Books of Obituaries by Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd, part of a great series, which includes
~~The Daily Telegraph Second Book of Obituaries: Heroes and Adventurers
~~Daily Telegraph Third Book: Entertainers
~~Daily Telegraph Book of Military Obituaries and there are more...
• Obit: Inspiring Stories of Ordinary People Who Led Extraordinary Lives by Jim Sheeler (an anthology celebrating life, by a Pulitzer Prize-winning obituary writer)
• The Last Word: The New York Times Book of Obituaries and Farewells : A Celebration of Unusual Lives, ed. by Marvin Siegel
• 52 McGs.: The Best Obituaries from Legendary New York Times Reporter Robert McG. Thomas . Publishers Weekly wrote: "A 'lover of the farfetched and the overlooked,' as novelist Mallon puts it in his appreciative introduction, the late New York Times reporter Robert McG. Thomas Jr. (1939-2000) developed a loyal following for quirky, witty obituaries that illuminated the lives of people not automatically destined for 'the Newspaper of Record.'"
• The Obit Kit (Susan Soper's workbook)
• The Obits: The New York Times Annual 2012 (ed. William McDonald, foreword by Pete Hamill). Obits from August 2010 to July 2011.
• The Economist Book of Obituaries ed. Ann Wroe and Keith Colquhoun (from obits published in The Economist from 1994 to 2008).
• The Times Great Lives: A Century in Obituaries edited by Ian Brunskill. See also his collection The Times Great Victorian Lives: An Era in Obituaries and Frank Roberts' collection Obituaries for the London Times, 1961-1970
Kathryn Mayo Candresse (1953-2008)
Kathryn Mayo Candresse died August 7, 2008, in Birmingham, Alabama. Born May 29, 1953, she was a native of Birmingham and had lived near Bordeaux, France, for the past twenty-two years. Her family posted an official obituary in the local paper, for her father's generation. The one that follows Kathy wrote herself, for her friends. Her sister, Donna Mayo, is my good friend.
After dancing a tight tango with cancer for five years, Kathryn Mayo was eliminated from the dance contest August 7, 2008. In lieu of a wake worthy of her Irish heritage, her family will be receiving friends at Jefferson Memorial Gardens funeral home from 6:00pm to 8:00pm, August 8th. Funeral services will be held at 10:00am, August 9th.
Although born and raised in Birmingham, Kathy Mayo lived most of her adult life in Bordeaux, France where she found a culture more in tune with her philosophical bent and taste for fine wine. Kathy worked in research and teaching in Microbiology at the University of Bordeaux and always said that if she were reincarnated the ultimate irony would be to come back as a lab mouse.
She is survived by her husband, Thierry Candresse, virologist, and her daughter, Camille, sweetie-pie, who reside in France. Her surviving family in America consists of her father, John C. Mayo; her older brother's family, John P. and Ellen Mayo, and offspring Bradley, Mimi, and Anna (of Nashville, TN); her younger sister's family, Donna and her husband Forrest Duncan, Donna's daughter Gray Vargas, and Forrest's children, Caroline and Graham Duncan. .
Kathryn will be remembered by her fellow students at E.B.Erwin High School for her knobby knees and thick glasses, by the students of Auburn University for her witless choice of major subject (Botany), and by professors at the Pennsylvania State University for her total lack of seriousness as a student. They gave her a master's degree in Plant Pathology against their better judgment…
The accomplishments of which she was most proud were her black belt in Aikido, actually getting paid for playing the harp for weddings and receptions, staying married to the same person for over 20 years, being able to make herself understood in French, having a baby at the age of 41, and a prize for research on a bacterium that causes stomach ulcers.