Sunday, April 09, 2006

Everlasting Love

It's not unusual for couples who have been married for a long time to die close together, and we've all written obits about that. Holly Crenshaw, an obit writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, gave readers a glimpse into the successful 76-year marriage of Mae Smith and her husband Charlie Smith of Jonesboro, GA: She led, he followed, even unto death.

They were in hospital rooms across the hall from each other, and Mr. Smith was expected to die first. Instead, Mrs. Smith died first and Mr. Smith died the next day. His mother, her son said, "was going to take the lead in everything."

This love story was the most viewed and emailed story online at Friday and continues to be in the Top 10 online stories. It's the top viewed story of the month.

Here's the link to

Holly's email address is

An Atlanta radio station read the obit on the air Friday, and a steady stream of emails has been coming to Holly since the double obit was published. It will make you laugh; it will make you cry—at the same time.

Kay Powell


Kay Powell said...

For you Chicago bloggers, radio station WBBM read the Mae and Charlie Smith obit on the air Friday. Some obits just take on a life of their own.
Kay Powell

Alana Baranick said...

Honest, Kay. I wasn't trying to copy Holly's couples obit when I wrote a couples obit for Frank and Lucille Novak for today's (Tues. April 11) Plain Dealer.

I didn't read about the Smiths and then plan to follow suit. You can't plan on these things. You can't will a couple to die on the obit writer's schedule like that.

Over the last 15 years, I've written several obits for married couples who left the planet around the same time. I mention this in the "Let Me Count The Ways" chapter of "Life on the Death Beat." (Alana, you shameless self-promoter!) So it's not like I'm stealing Holly's idea.

Some of these double obits have been incredibly touching. Others, more matter-of-fact.

For some couples, who stay married as long as Mae and Charlie Smith did, there is no "everlasting love" story. It's like being stuck in an unsatisfying job for 30 years just so you can keep your health insurance.

The Novaks - married 55 years - had the everlasting kind of love, but I don't think I conveyed this as well as Holly did for the Smiths.

Amy said...

I call them "two-fers" and try not to do them often since they involve twice as many interviews.

Sunday,March 21, 2004
Edition: SUNRISE, Section: LOCAL STORIES, Page B06

Sunday, March 21, 2004


Summary: Though they had different interests, Monte and Viola Emery lived as one and then died 6 1/2 hours apart

They met during the war. Viola Anstey, who had driven trucks for the Army and became Vancouver's first woman bus driver, was a shipyard welder. Monte Emery was a welder who piloted ships up the Columbia River, a single father with custody of his two young daughters.

They had both been married before. Viola, born Viola Coy, was one of nine children, who had quit school in 12th grade when she got an engagement ring. But the marriage didn't last long. Monte's first wife had died of tuberculosis, and his second marriage had ended in divorce. He was glad to marry Viola; it was hard work raising two little ones on his own. They married in November 1944, and she became his strength.

After the war ended, they moved to Long Beach, Wash., and a woman sold them a lot for $150. While they lived in a tent, the newlyweds built a primitive one-room house with wood collected on the beach and from the trees on their lot. Viola put the roof on, made kitchen cupboards from orange crates and cooked on a wood stove, for a long time making do without running water.

Both of them worked in the oyster canneries. But Monte was very protective of the women in his life: He didn't like Viola working outside the home. He also didn't think it was proper or fitting for a woman to drive -- and Viola, although a former truck and bus driver, let him be the boss and didn't drive for the rest of her life. When Viola was in her 40s, they had a daughter and son. In 1957, they moved to Vancouver, where they lived for the next 49 years. They kept the Long Beach house as a summer cabin.

Monte worked at the Crown Zellerbach paper mill in Camas, Wash., then for Crown Centennial Flour Mills in Portland for about 25 years. Viola became known as a "doll doctor," fixing up broken toys for needy children that local firefighters had collected.

After her children were older, Viola worked at a nursing home, St. Joseph Hospital, Southwest Washington Medical Center, and at the Washington State School for the Deaf; Monte drove her, no matter what the shift.

Although Monte was a blue-collar guy, he had a white-collar vocabulary. He was called the "Philadelphia Lawyer" by his friends, because of his eloquent vocabulary.

Viola was nicknamed "Rosie the Riveter," and she ribbed Monte about her many welding awards. Much later in her life, she welded some steps in Ocean Park, to everyone's surprise; but welding work just reminded her of doing embroidery.

Viola prepared fried chicken every Sunday, made in a cast iron skillet. The couple were very tight and had to have their arms twisted to go out to eat. They didn't buy a television until 1962 because they considered it an extravagance, even though Monte once kept $19,000 in his mattress.

Monte hated change and was quieter; Viola was more with it and made herself heard. They had different hobbies: Viola liked to play pool with the girls at the H and H Inn in Vancouver, and Monte drove her and watched. She was one of the older players and was given the title "most inspirational player."

Viola gardened and rototilled her garden until age 92; she made quilts from upholstery fabric she got for free.

Monte liked to hunt, fish and boat -- all over the state of Washington, especially near East Mill Plain Union High School, his alma mater.

Viola loved "The Price is Right," "Jeopardy" and "Wheel of Fortune"; Monte watched nature programs.

But they were both Democrats; Republicans were for the rich, and they weren't. They had a wonderful time on their 50th anniversary, a big picnic out on the Columbia River with grandkids and great-grandkids.

Viola survived lung cancer at 79, and on her 80th birthday she got a limo ride to the H and H Inn for a party that featured a male stripper; Monte thought it was great fun and liked to show off pictures of the event.

Viola died around 3 p.m. at her home, on March 9, 2004. Viola's death was expected, but Monte's was not. After he heard that Viola had gone, he decided he couldn't stay either. "I had no idea this event was going to transpire," he told his family. He asked that his family get out the suit he was married in 60 years earlier, said he would be leaving and died around 9:30 p.m. the same day. Viola, 93, was sent off with a favorite doll, and Monte, 94, was buried in his wedding suit.

Alana Baranick said...

Two-fers. I like that, Amy. And I love the story. Both Monte and Viola led busy, interesting lives.

I checked The Plain Dealer archives and found that I've written at least 12 two-fers for married couples in the last 14 years. The early ones were poorly written. Really, really poorly written.

The most recent one - for Frank and Lucille Novak - drew a lot of comments from my colleagues and from other people I encountered yesterday and today. All were positive except one. A woman complained that, because I said that Mrs. N. was the child of Italian immigrants, I should have mentioned that Mr. N. was Slovak.

She's probably right. It's something I'll keep in mind in the future.