Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Some of the best obits are about people who should've been known

Harrison Smith, one of the top obituary writers in the U.S. and a SPOW member, appeared on the Remembering the Passed podcast this week to discuss his obit of Ted Dabney.

Dabney, who died on May 26 at the age of 81, was a largely self-taught electrical engineer and the co-founder of Atari, Inc. He developed the basics of video circuitry principles that were used for Pong, one of the first and most successful arcade games, but until about a decade ago, Dabney's achievements in the world of video gaming were largely overlooked.

Click here to read Smith's wonderful obituary of Dabney, then check out the discussion of his life below:

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

LISTEN: Remembering the passed

Cory Franklin was the director of Medical Intensive Care at Cook County (Ill.) Hospital for 25 years. Since retiring, he's contributed articles to the Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, The New York Post, The Washington Post and The Chicago Sun-Times. Franklin is also the host of the podcast, Remembering the Passed, which discusses the role of notable people who have died recently on our history, society or culture. Here are the latest episodes:


Friday, June 08, 2018

The art of obituary writing

How does a journalist sum up in one story the impact of a lifetime?

Well, for Chicago Sun-Times obituary writer Maureen O'Donnell and columnist/obituary writer Neil Steinberg, it involves connecting the dots between past and present.

"This history is all around us, and it connects everyone," O'Donnell said. "It connects us to the past. It connects us to survival, it connects us to creativity, inspiration."



Watch their full interview below:

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Quote of the week


"It is not our intent to honor the dead; we leave the tributes to the eulogists. 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." --William McDonald

Sunday, June 03, 2018

A change in leadership

I'm thrilled to announce that The Society of Professional Obituary Writers has a new leader. Adam Bernstein, obituary editor for The Washington Post, was nominated for the position and has kindly accepted the responsibility.

Bernstein has spent his career putting the "post" in The Washington Post, first as an obituary writer and then as editor. The American Society of Newspaper Editors recognized Bernstein’s ability to exhume “the small details and anecdotes that get at the essence of the person” and to write stories that are “complex yet stylish.” He is featured in Marilyn Johnson’s book about the obit-writing craft, “The Dead Beat.”

Among the obituaries Bernstein has written, his favorites are those of Edward von Kloberg III, the lobbyist for dictators and despots who embraced the slogan “shame is for sissies”; and the filmmaker Billy Wilder, who wooed his future wife with the line, “I’d worship the ground you walked on, if only you lived in a better neighborhood.”

Perhaps wisely, Bernstein never tried to top Wilder when wooing his own future wife, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Marina Walker Guevara. They have two children, Santiago and Mia.

As the fourth president of SPOW, Adam has seen wonderful examples of leadership. Alana Baranick, Andrew Meacham and Maureen O'Donnell all put their own stamp on the society and helped it to flourish. I have no doubt that Bernstein will lead us well.

Monday, April 09, 2018

What makes Irish eyes smile

SPOW President Maureen O'Donnell once had a professor who told her: "There is an Irish obsession with knowing who died." And it's true! While looking into the nicknames for obits, O'Donnell discovered they were also called:


  • The Irish Scratch Sheet
  • The Irish Sports Pages
  • The Irish Racing Form
  • The Irish Comics


Inspired by these discoveries, Maureen wrote an article for the Chicago Sun-Times about the tradition. Click here to learn more.