Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Sandra Martin's Year-Ender

Nice thoughts, lively summary of professional high jinks, a few standout stiffs from the past year. Missing only a dirge for those colleagues who've received death notices of their own.

Friday, December 26, 2008

"Santa Baby" singer dies on Christmas.

I realize that Eartha Kitt was much more than a sultry singer who portrayed Catwoman in the campy "Batman" TV series of the 1960s.

But you have to admit that it's significant that the woman, whose biggest hit record was "Santa Baby," should die on Christmas Day - Dec. 25, 2008.

I was disheartened to see that so many newspapers published obits that buried the Christmassy irony toward the end of her obituary. Many didn't connect the dots between the song and the date of death at all.

In some papers, it was left up to the headline writer to put it together.

In his Kitt piece for Obit Magazine, Daniel Patrick Stearns does a nice job of tying together the holiday elements with the Kitt's sexually and politically provocative persona near the top of his story.

He writes:

Sex symbols always confront the world’s morality, but few went to such lengths as Eartha Kitt, who died on Christmas Day from colon cancer at age 81 after some six decades of being a flash point of provocative glamour. Whether asking Santa Claus for a yacht (with an obvious payback in mind) in her hit “Santa Baby” or seductively plying a man young enough to be her grandson with champagne during her nightclub act, Kitt presented herself with a take-it-or-leave-it attitude that defied the judgments of others.


Monday, December 15, 2008

Van Johnson's sexual orientation

Lesli Klaiberg of Orchard Films makes this observation about obits that were written for actor Van Johnson, a movie star of the 1940s and '50s, who died Dec. 12, 2008, at age 92.

"An interesting obit comparison. The NY Times vs The Advocate," Lesli says. "In this day and age, why no mention of Van Johnson being gay in the Times? Hmm??"

Friday, December 12, 2008

My anti-cult cult

I am really sick of the use of "cult" to describe kitsch or obscure. Cult adherents worship. They supplicate. They sacrifice. None of these things are true about the following show biz figures, most of whom are distinctly low-watt. Obit writers: I ask you to use words thoughtfully!

[Bettie] Page, whose popularity underwent a cult-like revival in the last 20 years, had been hospitalized for three weeks with pneumonia and was about to be released Dec. 2 when she suffered a heart attack, said Mr. Roesler, of CMG Worldwide.

[Nina Foch] Despite her obvious capabilities, she became inextricably stuck in B-movies, some of which achieved near cult status. Examples are I Love a Mystery (1945), The Guilt of Janet Ames (1947), The Dark Past (1948) and Johnny Allegro (1949), with George Raft.

[Beverly Garland] She gained cult status for playing gutsy women in low-budget exploitation films such as “The Alligator People” and a number of Roger Corman movies including “Gunslinger,” “It Conquered the World” and “Naked Paradise.”

[Paul Benedict] He was a staple in Christopher Guest's stock company, with roles in "A Mighty Wind," "Waiting for Guffman" and "Spinal Tap." He was also seen in 1970s cult pics such as "Deadhead Miles," "Taking Off" and "Smile."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Jim Morrison, his dad and the owner of the Whisky A Go Go

New York Times columnist Verlyn Klinkenborg wrote an interesting column titled A Curious Convergence in which he discusses the recent deaths of rock legend Jim Morrison's father and the owner of the Whisky A Go Go, where Morrison's The Doors came to prominence.

The column ran in print edition of the NYT on Dec. 11, 2008, and in the NYT online on Dec. 10.

Klinkenborg noted that Morrison's name appeared in the two men's NYT obits on the day after what would have been Morrison's 65th birthday.

This is the celebrity version of an obit convergence, but don't you obit writers and faithful obit readers frequently find similar convergences for all sorts of people?

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Sunny von Bulow

In the book "Insulin Murders" (London Royal Society of Medicine Press 2007), co-authors Caroline Richmond, who writes obits for the British Medical Journal and other publications, and Vincent Marks, an international expert on insulin, detail the medical aspects of the Sunny von Bulow case.

Sunny von Bulow, an heiress who spent nearly 28 years in a coma before dying Dec. 6, 2008, at age 76, was the subject of the book (and subsequent movie) "Reversal of Fortune" by lawyer Alan Dershowitz, who represented her husband, Claus von Bulow, in one of two attempted-murder trials. The husband allegedly tried to kill the heiress with an overdose of insulin.

Caroline says: There was no attempt at murder: her coma and persistent vegetative state was a result of abusing medicines, mainly painkillers, alcohol, appetite suppressant and other prescription drugs. There are accurate accounts in Alan Dershowitz's book, my book, and Wikipedia. And plenty of inaccurate acounts.

Caroline's obit for von Bulow was published today - Mon., Dec. 8, 2008 - in The Independent.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Andrew McKie, no longer obits editor at Daily Telegraph

You can tell the newspaper business is cratering and that newspaper execs have poor judgment when an extraordinary obits editor is given his walking papers.

The article "Obits editor among redundancies at the Daily Telegraph" that was published today - Dec. 1, 2008 - in The Guardian of London says:

The Daily Telegraph's obituaries editor, Andrew McKie, is among the first departures in the latest round of redundancies from the Telegraph Media Group.

McKie was given notice at lunchtime on Friday and has already left the Telegraph Media Group building in Victoria.

This is a travesty!

Monday, November 10, 2008

18th Century obits - wonderful article

"The modern obsession with celebrity started in 18th-century Britain with obituaries of unusual people published in what served as the gossip sheets of the era, an English literature scholar says."

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Times-Tribune claims newspaper plagiarized obits

Times-Tribune claims newspaper plagiarized obits

Published: Thursday, November 06, 2008
Updated: Thursday, November 6, 2008 4:19 AM EST
The Times-Tribune sued the Wilkes-Barre Publishing Co. and The Times Leader on Wednesday, claiming the Wilkes-Barre paper plagiarized more than 50 obituaries written and published in The Times-Tribune starting in late October.

The suit, filed in Lackawanna County Court, lists seven claims, including misappropriation, unfair competition, fraud, breach of contract and unjust enrichment.

The Times-Tribune is asking a judge to award damages in excess of $210,000 for lost profits, lost customers, loss of good will and damage to existing business relationships. The suit also asks that The Times Leader be barred from copying Times-Tribune obituaries or any other content from its newspapers or Web site.

Starting on Oct. 27, The Times Leader “simply copied obituaries from The Times-Tribune, The Sunday Times and/or The Scranton Times’ Web site” and published them in the Wilkes-Barre paper’s Scranton edition, the suit claims.

Attached to the lawsuit are examples of 50 obituaries that ran in The Times-Tribune through Oct. 31 and the same obituaries — down to punctuation, structure and style — that ran in The Times Leader a day or more later.

“It’s disturbing,” said Times-Tribune Managing Editor Lawrence K. Beaupre. “I’ve never seen such a vast and blatant example of plagiarism in my 40 years of journalism. They just took our work and presented it to their readers as if it were their own.”

Staffers at The Times-Tribune spoke to funeral directors involved with the 50-plus obituaries in question. The directors indicated they did not send any obituary information to The Times Leader and did not request that the obituaries be published in that paper, according to the lawsuit.

Publishing obituaries taken directly from The Times-Tribune constitutes unfair competition, the lawsuit says, and falsely conveys to the public and funeral homes in Lackawanna County that certain funeral homes are doing business with The Times Leader.

On Oct. 27, Times-Tribune attorney J. Timothy Hinton Jr. contacted Times Leader Publisher Richard Connor and told him The Times Leader was publishing obituaries copied directly from The Times-Tribune and The Sunday Times. Mr. Connor said he would look into the situation, according to the lawsuit.

A day later, Times-Tribune obituaries were still being published in The Times Leader, the suit says. Mr. Hinton faxed a letter to Mr. Connor requesting that his newspaper stop publishing obituaries taken from The Times-Tribune. The Wilkes-Barre paper did not stop, however, which led to the lawsuit.

Times Leader lawyer Ralph Kates had not seen the lawsuit Wednesday evening but said he had several discussions with Mr. Hinton prior to the suit being filed.

“I know of no law The Times Leader has violated in printing these obituaries,” Mr. Kates said.

He said both newspapers participate in a Web site called Legacy.com, a searchable database of obituaries from around the country, which he says permits “any participant to copy and publish any obituary from that Web site.”

Legacy.com’s terms of use, a copy of which is attached to the lawsuit, prohibits the use of its content for commercial activities.

“This isn’t about dollars and cents, it’s about right versus wrong,” Mr. Hinton said. “They might as well be photocopying our classified ads and selling them on the street corner.”

Contact the writer: enissley@timesshamrock.com

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween from Obit Magazine

HAPPY HALLOWEEN! Follow the links for some scary, spooky and interesting stories from your friends at Obit Magazine.

Spooky Scary Halloween Stories
Obit's Spookiest and scariest stories for your fright and delight this Halloween.

A Surprise One Would Never Seek
By Jeff Weinstein
You’re wandering through a cinematic moonlit graveyard, when, with a shudder, you are unaccountably pulled toward a newly polished, upright stone. You approach, and…yes, it’s Your Own Name, the date of death obscured by your own shadow.

My Heart Will Go On
By Natalie Pompilio
Ghosts, spectres and spooky apparitions populate Mary Roach's Spook. A Review.

Coffin it Up
By Joyce Gemperlein
For some people, having a handcrafted coffin on standby is not a macabre or depressing idea.

A Day for Skeletons and Skulls
By Ray Gonzalez
Family and friends are remembered on the Day of the Dead.

Going in Style
By Joyce Gemperlein
Hearses find new lives in the hands of collectors

When Death Came to Call
By Lesléa Newman
Death, like a furry brown bat with a wingspread as wide as a pterodactyl’s, shrank Himself to the size of a quarter and slipped in through the crack underneath my front door.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Rosa: The Philadelphia Hero

Philly's Joe the Plumber:

Rosa Bonds, 75, a feisty warrior who organized other fearless seniors to battle drug dealers on the streets of East Germantown, died of congestive heart failure Oct. 14 at Einstein at Elkins Park.

In search of a better life, Rosa Mae Rice moved from Spartanburg, S.C., in the fifth grade to live with her aunts in North Philadelphia. After graduating from William Penn High School, she married George Bonds in 1952, and the couple raised five children in Tioga.

Mrs. Bonds moved her family in 1960 to a white stone Victorian twin on quiet, leafy Pastorius Street off Germantown Avenue - still searching for that better life. When gangs, drugs, guns, firebombs and prostitution plagued her neighborhood, she decided to fight instead of run.

A block captain and ward leader for decades, Mrs. Bonds, who ran for state representative a couple of times, was vice president of the Germantown Community Improvement Alliance in the 1970s. She and about a dozen neighbors boarded up drug houses and chased off dealers. They patrolled neighborhoods throughout the city with community organizers such as C.B. Kimmins and the Guardian Angels.

In the 1980s, Mrs. Bonds founded East Germantown Against Drugs (EGAD) with Willie Witherspoon. She marched with ward leader Joseph C. Messa and District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham, who fought for city funding for the antidrug task forces.

"Most of the members were seniors," Kimmins said. "Rosa was a tiny, courageous fighter. She was not afraid of anyone."

At 60, Mrs. Bonds was the youngest in her group in 1993. About a dozen strong, the stubborn band of seniors did battle three to five nights a week on the shadowy drug corners in East Germantown, such as one near Baynton and Pastorius Streets. They covered their white hair with white EGAD helmets, wore blue jackets, and shined flashlights at dealers.

One night in 1994, a young thug turned off Osceola Street onto Pastorius with an arrogant strut. Mrs. Bonds, who knew many of the dealers and users in the neighborhood, said, "This one's a dealer."

She raised her megaphone and blared in a threatening, taunting voice: "Drug dealer, drug dealer, drug dealer, drug dealer, drug dealer."

The thug did not stop, so Mrs. Bonds launched another chant: "You can run, but you can't hide. We charge you with genocide."

The punk waved a plastic bag of drugs at the group, but he did not sell them that night on that street. The corner belonged to the 5-foot-3 grandmother and her courageous band of warriors.

Four generations lived in Mrs. Bonds' home, and all of them were cheated by crime. She taught her children at a young age to stay away from the window and hit the floor if they heard a shot.

"My mother worked at the Obama headquarters at Wayne and Chelten Avenues until two weeks before her death," son Chester said. "She had a stack of voter-registration forms inside our front door. Anyone who came in had to register. If she saw drug dealers outside, she went out there with a fistful of forms and said, 'I hate you, and I want you out of here, but register to vote first.' "

In addition to her son Chester, Mrs. Bonds is survived sons George and William Sr., daughters Rosalind and Anor, and 10 grandchildren. Her husband died in 1999.

A funeral service was held Oct. 18.

Memorial donations may be sent to Mothers in Charge, Allegheny Business Center, 2233 W. Allegheny Ave., Philadelphia 19132.

Contact staff writer Gayle Ronan Sims at 215-854-4185 or gsims@phillynews.com.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Dead Economics

For those who love their wry style (like me), Ann Wroe and Keith Colghoun's finest work can be found in the forthcoming "The Economist Book of Obituaries", out next month in time for the festive season (and is that a Monty Python reference on the cover?).

Presumably it went to press too early to include the late lamented Dow Jones.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Hearty congratulations

....go out to our very own Jim Sheeler.

Jim's latest book, “Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives,” which was adapted from his Pulitzer Prize-winning work in the Rocky Mountain News about soldiers killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, was named a finalist for a National Book Award.

Nicely done!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

P. J. O'Rourke looks death in the eye

Gayle Sims, Philadelphia Inquirer obituary writer, shares this P. J. O'Rourke opinion piece from Sept. 28, 2008, that caught her attention in the Los Angeles Times.

In the article titled "Give Me Liberty, and Give Me Death", O'Rourke writes: I looked death in the face. All right, I didn't. I glimpsed him in a crowd. I've been diagnosed with cancer, of a very treatable kind.

As O'Rourke goes on to talk about facing - or at least thinking about - his own mortality, he offers thoughts on the concepts of death, science and God.

He writes: No doubt death is one of those mysterious ways in which God famously works. Except, on consideration, death isn't mysterious. Do we really want everyone to be around forever?

A longer version of this fun-to-read, intriguing, amusing and somewhat religious story (strike the "somewhat") was published in Search Magazine.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Obituary for The New York Sun

Steve Miller (byline Stephen Miller) today, Sept. 30, 2008, had the task of penning an obituary for The New York Sun, where he has been obituaries editor since February 2003.

The obit, titled "Picking Up the Flag of the Sun," appears in the final edition of the 6-year-old publication.

Steve, known for his intense researching abilities and attention to detail, does an admirable job of summing up the life of this institution.

The setting of the Sun also means the end of Steve's career there, but life on the death beat goes on. He will continue handling the "Remembrances" obits in the Wall Street Journal.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Totally not an obit cliché

The paid death notice for Ruth E. Rencevicz, which was printed in the Akron (Ohio) Beacon-Journal Sept. 10, 2008, begins with:

Ruth E. Rencevicz, born Ruth Elizabeth Sechrist on August 28, 1927, passed away on September 7, 2008 due to complications resulting from her children making her old before her time.

Among her survivors: an illegitimate child conceived when the circus was in town named Greg "The Donkey" King.

She had an interesting work history:

Ruth also served her country as a covert spy for the Central Intelligence Agency, where during the Cold War she was largely responsible for the breakup of the Soviet Union near the end of the 20th century. At least, that's the way she told it.

She helped mold young people:

Ruth was also very active as a volunteer with youth in her community in Tallmadge, Ohio, where she was known to selflessly give of her time by standing on her balcony yelling at kids for "playing that rap music" at all hours of the day and night. She also served as a mentor to young people by throwing rocks at teenagers dressed in loose baggy pants with their underwear exposed. She winged a couple of 'em pretty good, from what we understand.

But wait! There's more! You should read all of what the family wrote about her.

I haven't started reading the 46 pages of guest book comments yet.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Obit cliches

Thanks to everyone who contributed! Special props to Amy Martinez Starke, who rounded up an impressive 112 cliches, some of them particular to the Pacific Northwest though none involving any vice-presidential nominees from Alaska.
Here's an edited list of everyone's worst offenders:

Died doing what s/he loved
An avid (noun)
Never met a stranger
A Renaissance (wo)man
Now sitting next to (golfing with/fishing with/tipping cows with, etc.) Jesus
A giving/caring individual
Would give you the shirt off his back [or her back, though that evokes coarse thoughts]
Always there for you/me
Would do anything for anybody [hmm. ANYthing? More coarse thoughts]
Only saw the best in people
Chose his own path (walked to the beat of his own drummer, etc)
Friend to all, enemy of none
Man (woman) of the world
Smile lit up the room
Didn't suffer fools
Could talk to anyone, from a CEO to a janitor
Made every minute count
A soul mate
Tackled life with (adjective) gusto
Connoisseur of life's ironies
A gentleman/lady first
Had many fine qualities
Enhanced the lives of those around him/her
Generous to a fault
Known for boundless energy
Friend to the friendless
A (wo)man of quiet dignity
His/her family was his/her life
A private person
Personality larger than life
Built that business on a handshake
Trailblazer/ blazed trails for others to follow
Strict but fair
A voracious (noun)
A consummate (noun)
A gifted (noun)
An accomplished (noun)
Had an insatiable passion for (noun)
Had an inexhaustible love of (noun) [though I think if the noun were "truly improbable pornography" or "collecting Happy Meal toys," it would be OK, but that's just me]
A seeker of truth/wisdom/meaning
Honest as the day is long [again, I think this would be OK if the day were above the Arctic Circle, in winter]
Yin to his/her yang
When you were near (name), you knew you were in the presence of someone special
Will be sorely missed
A poet's soul
Broke the mold
Door was always open/always kept an open door
A perfectionist
Never complained
possessed many fine qualities
Enhanced all lives s/he touched
Loved (children/wife/friends/dog) more than life itself
An inspiration to all
Never any self-pity
Never asked, 'Why me?'
Never said a negative word
Left the world a better place
An all-around nice guy/gal
Will be remembered for his quick wit [exception: If he said "Hey, watch this!" and overstepped the overlook ledge while at the Grand Canyon]
Truly one of a kind
Not soon be forgotten.
"No," "Can't" and "Won't" weren't part of his/her vocabulary
Never a dull moment
Refused to give in or give up
Loved by people from all walks
Gave the gift of laughter/life/love/STDs [sorry, not that last one]
A heart big as all outdoors/ so big that it finally wore out
No degree, but never stopped learning
Student of life
Took many under his/her wing
Honest and true
A thirst for knowledge
Ahead of his/her time
Heart of gold
Always gave 100%/110%
Excelled at everything
Enjoyed spending time with her family, walking in the rain, and pina coladas
Her (family/friends/pets/miniatures collection) were the light of her life
Hailed from a prominent family, with ancestors who were fourth (fifth, etc.) generation (effete noun)
A tireless/untireing/dauntless champion of (cause)
Left a legacy of (blank)
Awards too numerous to mention
Had many honors/awards but never talked/bragged about them
A simple (wo)man
A child at heart
Never lost that child-like innocence [OK for Happy Meal toy collector though]
Marriage had a few bumps in the road [OK for Henry VIII]
Died peacefully with his familyi at his side
Engaged all with her witty conversation
Left this life with no regrets
A natural born (vocation noun)
Would have wanted it that way
Zest for life [and, incidentally, his favorite brand of soap! Memento bars will be distributed following the service.]
A self-made wo/man
Only father/mother they ever knew
Wasn't that kind of (wo)man
In heaven now/With Jesus now, gathering all the angels for (favorite activity)
Succumbed to cancer after a long and courageous battle
Loved life
A people person [Soylent Green!]
A consummate (vocational or avocational noun)
A (vocational noun)'s (vocational noun)
An icon
Never be another like him/her
Always learning new things
Graduate of the School of Hard Knocks
Just getting his/her life together/turned around
A role model
Didn't talk much about himself [exception: When Bill O'Reilly or Rush Limbaugh dies, for a guaranteed laugh]
Not a churchgoer but very religious/faithful
Always a twinkle in his/her eye
Knight in shining armor
Enjoyed/lived each day to its fullest

Got more? Post 'em!

Friday, August 29, 2008

WARNING about deathrecordsobituarysearch.com scam

I feel like an absolute fool. I'm sharing what just happened so you don't fall into the same trap.

Most immediate warning: DO NOT SUBSCRIBE TO http://www.deathrecordsobituarysearch.com/!!!!!

The rest of this warning could apply to any similar situation.

Here's the story.

An anonymous blog visitor posted a comment on one of our posts giving high praise to http://www.deathrecordsobituarysearch.com/ as godsend for getting death records and such.

Warning #1: Don't accept anything that an anonymous commenter, e-mailer or whatever tells you.

I knew that. Honestly, I knew that. But for the last several weeks I've been looking for obituaries or any other records of death for members of my high school graduating class who reportedly are deceased. And I've also developed a renewed desire to know more about my genealogy.

My fervent desire to believe that this anonymously recommended search engine would readily help me clouded my judgement.

Warning #2: If it's too good to be true, it probably is.

At the Web site, you enter a way-too-simple search - only the first name and last name of the person whose records you seek - to get started. If this were a useful Web site, supposedly searcing death and obituary records around the world for hundreds of years, you'd at least need a middle initial, wouldn't you?

I entered a search anyway, fool that I am, for "Nancy Walters." I graduated from high school with Nancy Charlene Wilson, who by all accounts married some guy named Walters.

Her name is so common that I've had difficulty finding anything definite on her via the Internet. I found a Nancy Walters in SSDI who was a year younger than most of my classmates and who is listed as dying in October 1979. No specific date of death. I believe that's my Nancy, unless my Nancy's surname changed again before she died.

The recommended Web site boasted marriage records too. You get the picture.

Warning #3: Be wary if you have to pay without getting a free sample.

My search for Nancy Walters resulted in a "You must be registered" prompt. Okay. Saying who you are makes sense. But the various levels of registration all included making a payment for periods of time ranging from 3 days to 5 years.

Yep. Yours truly paid up.

Warning #4: Read the terms of the agreement. Don't simply print it out and click "I accept."

If I had read this very last item, I would have retreated immediately:

This website is for your own personal use only. You may NOT send automated queries to our system, republishing or redistributing any data on this website is strictly prohibited. Usage of this website and all information contained within is subject to West Bengal, India law. By accessing SearchMyRecords.com, you also certify and attest that you are NOT affiliated with any local, state, or federal law enforcement agency. If you are, you are NOT permitted to proceed past this page and must leave this website immediately.

Warning #5: Don't read offers like that before you're fully awake.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Whoops a daisies!

Bloomberg published an obituary for Apple CEO Steve Jobs on Aug. 27. The problem? Jobs is still alive.

The news organization blames an electronic error for the release of the advance obit and later issued a retraction. But the mistake provides a lesson for all obituary writers working in the Information Age. If you write advancers, be sure to store the articles on a different server than the one that runs your live site.

On the plus side, Jobs is still alive. Plus, he got a sneak peek at what one media outlet plans to say about him when he eventually dies. Who wouldn't want to read that?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Mysterious motives

This essay on fiction editors has much of interest to obit fans:

No service, no prayers and no closure

By now, this has apparently become of the buzz of Google, but it just sailed into my inbox today. For anyone else who hasn't seen...

"Dolores had no hobbies, made no contribution to society and rarely shared a kind word or deed in her life. I speak for the majority of her family when I say her presence will not be missed by many, very few tears will be shed and there will be no lamenting over her passing."



Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Another unlikely obit-writing casualty of newspaper reorganization

Obitland got a kick in the teeth yesterday (Aug. 18, 2008) when award-winning obituary writer Kay Powell of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution informed colleagues and Fobits (obit fans) around the world that she would no longer be the obit diva of the AJC. (Clarification: Her colleagues are also her fans.)

Kay wrote:
As of Sept. 2, I'll no longer be writing obits for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
In the AJC's second reorganization in a year, I'm moving to the Cobb County bureau to report on communities.

Many journalists would consider this is a nod to Kay's extraordinary interviewing, researching and storytelling talents. She's such a fabulous reporter and writer that her editors want to reward her by moving her out of obits and into "live" news.

But Kay relished her role as obit writer, obits editor and mentor of other obit writers, both at the AJC and worldwide.

In her note to us she wrote: The happiest part of my journalism career has been writing obits and developing friendships with each of you.

We mourn her "passing" from obits to community news.

As the death of a sibling makes one rethink one's own mortality, the inconceivable departure of Kay (and of Gerry Hostetler, who took a buyout from the Charlotte Observer in July) from the death beat prompts those of us who write obits for newspaper editorial departments to wonder, "Will I be next?"

I'm too stunned to say much more than that.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Do women live longer than men?

Back in the 1980s - and possibly after that - comedian Alan King did a comedy routine in which he cited several obits for old guys who were survived by their wives to support his view that women live longer than men.

Check it out (with apologies for King's politicallly incorrect and somewhat salty language).

Sunday, July 27, 2008

All the Way Dead?

I've written my own obituary.

Every six months or so, I update the text and save it on the hard drive of my laptop. In the event of my death, my mate will post it on my Website and e-mail it to everyone in my address book. I've also requested that he publish the obit on The Blog of Death; if I have my way, it'll be the last post to appear there.

Since I'll be dead when my obit goes live, I won't have the opportunity to read the reactions to my demise. I won't know who left behind loving tributes or who simply didn't give a damn. Wouldn't it be neat to have that chance, to know how you were perceived by those around you?

Some people know, because they faked their own death. Here's a great list of 10 Dead People Who Weren't Really Dead.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Obit for a namesake

This was in Creative Loafing, an alt publication in Tampa Bay. Someone died who had the same name as the writer, Alex Pickett. He wanted to know more. I thought it was a cool story.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A 58-year-old guy who had no survivors


First post on this forum. Hope it works the way I want it to. Anyway, this is the kind of subject I'd been hoping to find someday. Previously I'd queried funeral homes on elderly people who have outlived all of their survivors. But this guy was much younger. By the way, I could detect no criminal record. Andy

Another missed opportunity

I don't know about y'all, but when I saw the photo in my local paper this morning of Ronnie Wood with his new girlfriend, a 19-year-old Russian waitress, I made a mental note to start collecting some background materials. Now this from the PA, suggesting that we may have to wait a few years:

(story truncated to prevent copyright violations)

Rolling Stone Wood goes into rehab


Ronnie Wood has entered rehab, a spokeswoman for the star said today. The Rolling Stone is "seeking help" with his battle with alcohol.

Wood recently fled to a bolt-hole in Ireland with a Russian cocktail waitress.

His spokeswoman said: "Following Ronnie's continued battle with alcohol he has entered a period of rehab.

Amusing article on what to print in the paper

Originally posted by Amelia in alt.obituaries


Monday, July 14, 2008

Life and death of a 12-year-old

I tend to shy away from writing obituaries for children. Summing up a short life generally amounts to a couple of biographical facts (birthplace, school, scouts, favorite toy) and a lot of sentimentality.

When I received a call from a reader suggesting we do a human interest story on Demetrius Smith, who was on the planet for only 12 years, I balked. But to give the caller, who was not related to the child, a fair shake, I asked him to send me a copy of the obituary from the funeral program.

I was intrigued. Demetrius lived most of his life with death, having his first bout with cancer as a toddler, and yet I could see that he packed a whole lot of living into those 12 years.

I like to claim that I strive for diversity in my weekly obit feature, A Life Story. My subjects come from all walks of life, ethnic backgrounds, occupations, lifestyles, religious and political persuasions, and, yes, ages.

And yet I had never written A Life Story for anyone under 30.

Demetrius' story was published in The Plain Dealer today, July 14, 2008. The story with photos and a video of Demetrius playing the piano appears on the paper's newsblog.

I was inspired by what I learned about this kid. Judging from the comments that have been made online in these first few hours, it's safe to say the Demetrius' short life has inspired lots of people.

And to think, I almost rejected the idea of writing his story.

Friday, July 11, 2008

2009 Society of Professional Obituary Writers Convention News

The Residence Inn Charlotte Uptown is the site of the 2009 Society of Professional Obituary Writers Convention, which will be held April 23-25, 2009, in Charlotte, N.C.

Read more about that at the Obitwriters.org convention page.

Would you like to speak at the convention?

What topics would you like to see addressed?

What speakers would you like to hear?

Would you like to volunteer to help with planning and executing the event?

Post your comments on this blog or write to us at convention@obitwriters.org.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Death: Stairway to Heaven or Highway to Hell?

If the Aussies are doing it, is America far behind? Not at all. We're increasingly adding personal elements to funerals and memorial services—or inhumations and celebrations of life. The Associated Press reported the contemporary funeral song trend in Australia. Our resident Australian by marriage, Joanne West, confirms the trend to oddities.

AP reports from Adelaide that Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" and AC/DC's "Highway to Hell" haven't made it into the top 10 funeral songs but are crowding "Amazing Grace" and "Abide With Me." Perennial favorites are Frank Sinatra's "My Way" and Louis Armstrong's version of "Wonderful World."

Myself, I've long designated—long before the Broadway show—Peter Allen's "Quite Please, There's a Lady on Stage" for my service or visitation, preferably with mourners joining in a rousing sing along on the chorus. Allen was, of course, Australian.

Read the AP story in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution at http://www.ajc.com/search/content/shared-gen/ap/Feature_Stories/ODD_Australia_Funeral_Hits.html

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Monster.com founder to challenge Legacy.com

In his story Monster founder sets sights on online obituaries, AP Business Writer Seth Sutel reports that Jeff Taylor, who "helped set off a tectonic shift in recruitment advertising by founding Monster.com, one of the first online companies to challenge a big profit source of newspapers" 14 years ago, plans to compete with newspapers for advertising dollars for online obituaries.

Sutel writes: Taylor believes that may be changing as more people live far from the places they were born and grew up. Taylor hopes his new site, Tributes.com, will fill that broader need.

In the article, Sutel cites such other online obit sites as Legacy.com and Memory-Of.com, which offer obits in various forms with guest books for a fee.

The article also makes several other points. Read it.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Society of Professional Obituary Writers membership criteria

The Society of Professional Obituary Writers Interim Board has adopted a mission statement and criteria for membership, associate membership and dues.

Membership details are available on the SPOW Web site. Check the Membership page. The mission statement is posted under About Us.

Be watching for more details on the 2009 SPOW Convention in the next few days.

Friday, June 27, 2008

New Canadian radio program features documentary obituaries

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. has launched a weekly radio program dedicated to documentary obituaries of "the extraordinary life stories of deceivingly ordinary Canadians."

The host is the renowned actor Gordon Pinsent. The first episode aired on June 24 featuring a look at the life of a street person known as Midget Mike.

For more information and to listen to the first episode, check out: www.cbc.ca/radiosummer/thelateshow.

tom hawthorn
victoria, b.c., canada

Thursday, June 26, 2008

International TV POV on Obits

The Listening Post, a U.K.-based company that produces programs for Al Jazeera English, presented a segment about writing obituaries from an international point of view on a program that aired June 20, 2008.

The producers included comments from experts in the field, including Steve Miller, New York Sun obits editor, Wall Street Journal "Remembrances" writer and contributor to the Obituary Forum.

Don't be alarmed by the title of the program: The Trial of Al Jazeera English. The link provided above is for the second half of the show, which is about obituary writing.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Notes from the 10th Great Obituary Writers Conference

Perhaps the blogsters might have some interest in a report of sorts from the recent Tenth Great Obits Conference in Las Vegas, NM, held June 13 to 15. Following are some items from my notes.

The assemblage was somewhat smaller in numbers than in some recent years. It was hard to keep count, however the official attendance roster showed 15 official registrants. There were a few more who had not probably not officially registered. I think those were spouses, significant others, etc. who mostly did not sit in on many of the sessions. Though lacking in size this was a group that quickly bonded into a common purpose, consideration of the art of the obituary.

Aside from many familiar faces from past conferences, the Tenth Great attracted several new folks with interesting backgrounds and purposes. There were two film makers from the U.K. who are looking into bringing Marilyn Johnson's delightful "The Dead Beat" to the screen. A professor from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign presented a challenging, discussion provoking paper on the ethical implications of obituaries for animals. A representative of a biographical research company in California added that perspective to our discussions. A young former public radio broadcaster, now a graduate student in creative nonfiction writing, educated us about the application of the latter craft to the obituarists' art.
I was personally pleased to meet a colleague from the librarian ranks, just recently retired from the science library at UC Berkeley. We library folk, though few in number, appreciate the importance of obits.

Some highlights from the formal presentations follow. On day one, Professor Jane Desmond made the aforementioned talk about obituaries for animals. I must say that this talk triggered one of the most lively, and at times emotional, discussions in my memory from the Great Obit Writers conferences. You just had to have been there. We all completed questionnaires for Dr. Desmond for her use in furthering her research efforts. It was good to see our old friend Trudi Hahn Pickett back at the conference table. Now relocated to New Mexico, Trudi formerly wrote obits in Minnesota and attended previous conferences before leaving the craft to marry and join her husband in the Southwest. Trudi presented a personal case study in the writing of a family composed obit, a news obituary, and a personal eulogy, all three involving the passing of her husband six months ago. Emotional though it was for all concerned, it was a remarkable sharing experience for us. Highlights from day two included a visit and presentation from Jim Sheeler our Pulitzer winning comrade from conferences past and member of the IAO Hall of Fame.
Jim began his presentation with selections from the Spoon River Anthology collection of epitaph/poems, brought to YouTube video by high school students and accompanied by tracks from alt-country singer Richard Buckner. Jim followed that with video highlights that accompanied his recent book "Final Salute" about his work with surviving families of soldiers fallen in the Afghan and Iraqi war zones. The final presentation, that being the award to the newest IAO Hall of Fame winner, was to have been made by Kay Powell of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Kay was stopped mid-way by IAO founder Carolyn Gilbert, who took over the floor to announce that Kay herself was the new inductee. Bravo! Congratulations to Kay!

Some bits 'n pieces to wrap up . . . as part of a response to the recent Boston Globe column about the IAO - SPOW split, Carolyn Gilbert verbally countered several of the claims presented in the piece. She also indicated that the annual calendar of the numbered Great Obituary Writers conferences may change somewhat so as not to come so near in time to the SPOW meetings.
Locations will likely continue to be in somewhat off the beaten path venues. Efforts remain underway to identify a location to place the archives of the IAO, which now fill five filing cabinets. We had somewhat of an echo of the famous Ronald Reagan death bulletin pandemonium when Jim Sheeler, arriving at the conference, brought the news flash about Tim Russert's sudden death. I announced the initiation of an "Obituaries in Education Interest Group" which will remain associated with the IAO and will serve as a link for folks who use obituaries in an educational setting. Please watch this blog and the IAO's Obitpage.com website for further information.

Wish you could have been there!


Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Window Into the Past

The current writer of the Dear Abby column (her daughter actually) recently tackled the topic of obituary photographs. Some readers want to see more modern pictures of the deceased. Others prefer pictures from the past. If you had to choose one to accompany your news obit, which would you publish?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Obituary writers: Accomplices in Crime???

In the previous Obituary Forum post - "Obituarists Abet Second-Story Man!" - Steve Miller shared a story from The Republican about a Massachusetts man who admitted robbing several families while they were attending the funerals of loved ones.

Pam Vetter, a certified funeral celebrant who pens obit-related articles and obituaries for her clients for Los Angeles-area publications, sent along a story about a similar case. This one happened in Missouri.

In her June 9, 2008, American Chronicle piece, Funeral Day Burglar Convicted: Thieving from Those Who are Grieving and Its Effect on Paid Death Notices and Obituaries, Pam suggests that publicity surrounding such cases might make families reluctant to share information about the dearly departed for reporter-written or paid obits.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Obituarists Abet Second-Story Man!

Judge gets tough on funeral burglar

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

NORTHAMPTON - A Hampshire Superior Court judge postponed sentencing yesterday for a man who admitted robbing several families while they were attending the funerals of loved ones.

Thomas J. Walker, 20, of 131 North St., Palmer, pleaded guilty to four counts of breaking and entering in the daytime to commit a felony, four counts of larceny over $250, and two counts of larceny of a firearm.

During his plea on Monday, Walker acknowledged that he studied obituaries, noted the times of certain funerals, and broke into the homes of the families of the deceased, knowing that they would be at the services.

Three of the thefts occurred in Belchertown, and one in South Hadley. All of the break-ins took place last July.

The court was told that Walker stole jewelry, money, computers, and other items from the homes, as well as two handguns. Police matched a fingerprint at one of the crime scenes to Walker, and also observed him on a surveillance videotape using one of the bank cards he stole.

Police stopped him while he was driving, and found some of the stolen property from South Hadley in his car, according to prosecutors. Many of the other items were recovered at his home.

Defense lawyer John W. Drake and prosecutor Frank E. Flannery had recommended a sentence of three to five years in prison in exchange for Walker's guilty plea, but Judge Bertha D. Josephson indicated that she would mete out an additional 10 years' probation, calling his actions despicable.

When a judge exceeds the recommended sentence, defendants are allowed to withdraw their guilty plea and seek a trial. Josephson gave Walker a day in which to reconsider.

In court yesterday, Walker said he would accept the sentence.

Josephson scheduled the sentencing for July 28 so that the probation department can prepare a pre-sentencing report. Drake told the judge that Walker developed a drug habit after his father, a former state Highway Department worker, was injured and became addicted to Oxycontin.

Use of the painkiller spread through the family, and Walker eventually became addicted to heroin, Drake said.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Tim Russert

Surely you know by now that Tim Russert, Washington bureau chief for NBC News and moderator of "Meet the Press," died of a heart attack Friday, June 13, while working at the NBC studios in Washington, D.C.

He was only 58.

Print and broadcast accounts of his life and death are too numerous to list. Here are a few of them.

Naturally, the NBC/MSNBC and Meet the Press folks gave him the biggest send-off.

His hometown paper, the Buffalo News, ran several articles and columns for Buffalo's Own.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer also claimed Russert as a local guy because he graduated from John Carroll University and Cleveland State University's Cleveland-Marshall College of Law.

Tom Shales penned An Appreciation for Russert in The Washington Post. The Post also provided many but nowhere near all of the links to other articles that have been written or broadcast about Russert since Friday.

Have you read, watched or listened to any Russert obits that you'd like to share?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Obituary conferences are about life, not death.

Brenda Bolinger wrote an article titled Obituary conference showed obit writers fascinated with life lived for the Claremont-Courier (Claremont, Calif.).

She wrote it from her perspective of having attended the Portland obit writers workshop in May and a Numbered Great Obituary Writers Conference in Las Vegas, N.M., in 2003.

In her multilayered answer to the question - What in the world happens at an obituary writers conference? - Brenda provides a report on the Portland gathering and her commentary on obit writers conferences in general.

She writes that the conferences are not depressing, but Invigorating, fascinating, inspiring, challenging, moving and even laugh-inducing, but not depressing.

Judging from the frequency with which I was asked this question, or a variation thereof, I believe there is a misconception about obituary writers. The prevailing perspective is that we are mired in death. How far from the truth.

We are, instead, mired in life. We intentionally, vigorously steep ourselves in life, in history, in relationships and personalities. Far from being attracted to this profession out of a morbid or melancholic obsession, obituary writers find the allure of life keeps them rooted in the profession.

I think she's got something there.

We're waiting for reports on the 10th Great that was held the weekend of June 13.

(One point of clarification: Brenda refers to the Portland workshop as the Society of Professional Obituary Writers "first annual conference." Although the Portland event provided the opportunity for SPOW's first meeting, the workshop/conference was put on independently by Amy Starke and Joan Harvey of The Oregonian.)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The 10th Great

The 10th Great Obituary Writers' International Conference will be held this weekend - June 12-14, 2008 - in Las Vegas, N.M.

Speakers and topics have been posted at Obitpage.com.

The speakers listed are:

Dr. Jane Desmond, a professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, co-founder and director of the International Forum for U.S. Studies and president of the International American Studies Association;

Trudi Hahn Pickett, retired Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune obituary writer and authority on all things military;

Jim Sheeler, scholar-in-residence at the University of Colorado, author of "Final Salute" and "Obit," and International Association of Obituarists Hall of Fame inductee, who won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing while reporting for the Rocky Mountain News.

Kay Powell, obits editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and winner of two 2008 Society of Professional Obituary Writers Awards, is slated for the presentation of the 2008 IAO Hall of Fame recipient.

IAO founder Carolyn Gilbert, the creator, host and emcee of the Great Obituary Writers conferences, will wrap up the event Saturday. Her subject: What Lies Ahead?

We welcome reports on the conference.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Obit stirs controversy

I wrote an obituary for former Cleveland building commissioner Carlton Rush (published in The Plain Dealer, Cleveland, Ohio, on June 6, 2008) that the family and some readers called disgraceful, insensitive, unacceptable, tabloid journalism.

Here's how Ted Diadiun, the PD's reader rep, addressed the controversy in his June 8 column titled Headline on Carlton Rush's obituary did a disservice to his accomplished life.

Ted wrote: While Mr. Rush was building commissioner in Cleveland in the late 1970s, he became embroiled in what was widely known as the "carnival kickback case" -- an accusation that then-Cleveland City Council President George Forbes and others had accepted payoffs from a local carnival operator. Mr. Rush, Forbes and 16 others were indicted on a variety of charges. It was a story that dominated Cleveland's front pages and local television for much of the summer of 1979.

Mr. Rush won a motion to have his case separated from the others and was granted a separate trial. The charges against him were ultimately dismissed. In what appeared to be a case of prosecutorial overreach, the other defendants were acquitted.

After Carlton Rush died last Sunday, reporter Alana Baranick, the wise and sensitive woman who writes most of our obituaries, faced a decision: Could she write an honest obituary about a man whose life and accomplishments clearly rated one, without including the carnival case?

An obituary is a news story, not simply a tribute, and in summing up an overall worthy life, it's not easy to decide how much weight to give the bumpy spots.

"He was too well known and too important to the community to not do an obituary on him," she said, "but the event was too major to not include. Even though it was a long time ago, it was a daily happening in the news for more than a year."

I started the obit with information about Rush serving as the building commissioner, working as an electrical engineer and executive with the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co., and developing energy-efficient, environmentally friendly homes.

I deliberately inserted the carnival kickback case several paragraphs into the obit, so copy editors would not include it in the headline. No such luck.

Not only did the headline focus on that case, it indicated Rush was "acquitted." It didn't say the indictment was "dismissed."

It's odd how words take on connotations. Nowadays when we say someone was "acquitted," many people take it to mean that the person got away with something. They don't even consider that a person might have been innocent.

Likewise, many folks equate "indictment" with "guilt."

I hope those people consider this little bit of history about Cleveland's carnival kickback case and realize that just because someone in authority (prosecutor, police, politician) makes an accusation, it doesn't mean it's true.

I'm sure other obit writers have had to deal with similar issues. Please share your thoughts.

I hope the Rush family and their friends will read this and comment as well.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Onion headline? Nay, our frigid neighbor to the north.

Activist began as angry young man and retired as 'an angry old man'

New look for Obit mag

Check out the new Obit magazine at www.obit-mag.com. It’s been re-envisioned, re-engineered, reincarnated, the Obit newsletter reports.

Readers can now:

Read and comment on Visions of Heaven.

Look up your birth date in Died on the Same Day and discover who checked out on the day you checked in.

Relive historical moments through video and photography in Final Cut and Photo Finish.

Join a discussion about favorite graveyards.

Learn about the team behind Obit.

Register to receive Obit’s eNewsletter and to stay in touch with Obit.

Here's more from the Obit team:

Whether centered on a person, a place, an object or an idea, life’s constant change presents an opportunity for examination, discussion and celebration. Obit brings you a forum for ideas and opinions about life, death, and transition that you will find nowhere else.

Obit wishes to welcome our new visitors and to thank our loyal community. Please take a minute to give us feedback and to tell us a bit about you, so that we can continue to bring you content that informs and entertains you. Through the lens of life.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Whatever happened to the 10th Great in Toronto?

Have you been wondering about what went wrong with the obit writers conference that was scheduled more than a year ago to be held in Toronto, Ontario? And what prompted the formation of the Society of Professional Obituary Writers?

Columnist Alex Beam seems to have the answers and shares them in Grave schism on the death beat, his June 3, 2008, column for the Boston Globe.

He starts the column: You know the inevitabilities of modern life: death, taxes, and rival organizations of newspaper obituarists.

Beam managed to get a history of what has come to be known as the "Toronto fiasco" from Carolyn Gilbert, the founder of the Great Obituary Writers Conferences and the International Association of Obituarists, and Colin Haskin, obits editor at the Globe and Mail who was to have been the local host of the 10th Great Obituary Writers Conference.

He really did his homework.

It's enlightening.

Monday, June 02, 2008

What a way to go! Or - What? A way to go?

Stephanie Hayes addresses the many ways in which families say their loved ones left the planet, walked out of their wheelchairs and into the arms of the Lord and other euphemisms for "died" in her article, 'Dying' is just not good enough anymore, in the June 1, 2008, edition of the St. Petersburg Times.

She writes: The more we avoid thinking about the big sleep, the more numb we become, said Michael Knox, a University of South Florida professor who has taught courses about, um, blank and blanking.

Stephanie adds: Spiritual euphemisms crossed over, entered eternal life can be comforting to those who believe existence continues after we leave our earthly vessels.

"When the culture believes there is something after death, it keeps them going," Knox said.

While writing obits for the Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio, I've encountered lots of staunch Christians, who insist that the dearly departed has "gone on to be with the Lord."

I usually tell them that, although their sainted loved one may have lived an exemplary Christian life that suggests that what they say is true, I can't write in a news obituary that someone is in heaven.

I can't verify it. I don't have a phone number for Jesus' heavenly mansion or St. Peter at the Pearly Gates. And our long distance lines don't reach that far anyway.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Another fraudulent obit

This has come up before - the idea of publishing a fraudulent obit to mislead creditors or whatever. Usually it is one's own obit and not somebody else's though.

Woman says fake obituary intended to keep creditors at bay

The Post and Courier
Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A North Charleston woman who claimed to be the mother of a female Air Force officer killed in Iraq conceded Tuesday the officer doesn't exist.

Melanie Grant, 39, said she thought she could buy time with creditors if she told them her daughter had died. A paid obituary published Thursday and Friday in The Post and Courier stated Lt. Melissa Hope Grant, 24, died May 11 in Iraq.

"I just made it up. Honestly, I don't know what I was thinking," a tearful Melanie Grant said.

A photograph accompanied the obituary. Grant said she tore the photo from the pages of a bridal magazine.

Full obituaries and funeral notices are arranged through the newspaper's classified ad department. The Grant obituary was sent in from Suburban Funeral Home. The newspaper bills the funeral home, in this case $242.77, and the funeral home passes the cost on to the family.

Skip Mikell, executive vice president and general manager of Suburban Funeral Home, said he never suspected anything unusual about the "death."

Two women who identified themselves as aunts of the "deceased" sat in the funeral home's family room May 14 and gave Mikell basic information, he said. Grant said Tuesday that neither woman is a relative, but one is a longtime friend.

Though Mikell never met Grant, he said she called him last week. She told him she had to travel to a military base to pick up paperwork, which she would deliver to him Friday. Mikell said he became suspicious when Grant never showed. On Monday, he contacted a U.S. Department of Defense casualty officer who said she'd check all branches of the military for a Lt. Melissa Hope Grant. Mikell was still waiting Tuesday afternoon for word from Defense.

Grant said she got scared after the obituary was published.

Readers began posting online messages in the guest book for Lt. Melissa Hope Grant the day the obituary appeared, although most said they didn't know the woman or the family. Like many, Robbie Bray, chaplain of the Tri-County Blue Star Mother's Chapter of Charleston, expressed sympathy for the family and gratefulness for the woman's service to her country.

Bray's sadness turned to shock Tuesday when told there was no Lt. Melissa Hope Grant.

"What? Oh my gosh, why? Oh my goodness gracious. Oh my gosh, that is awful. My heavens. What a misrepresentation," Bray said.

Grant said she decided to come clean when questioned Tuesday by a Post and Courier reporter. She said she lives on disability on a fixed income and is raising two grandchildren and one stepgrandchild.

The idea of creating a death "just came in my head," as a way to get creditors to give her some space, she said.

Grant's criminal history obtained through the State Law Enforcement Division showed 15 variations on her name and several old convictions on loitering for the purpose of prostitution. The majority of her arrests were in the 1980s and 1990s. There is a pending fraudulent check charge from February.

Grant acknowledged Tuesday that she'd been arrested before, but said she'd worked hard to clean up her life. She said she's embarrassed that she duped so many people.

"It just wasn't worth it," she said.

Mikell said he'll consider the experience a lesson learned, and the funeral home will not try to collect the cost of the obituaries from Grant, who is already "ducking" creditors, he said.

Reach Nita Birmingham at 937-5433 or nbirmingham@postandcourier.com.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Researcher asks questions about obits

Kate Sweeney, a North Carolina-based writer, is putting together a book about "our changing ways of remembering our dead in this country, everything from green burial to online urn retailers, to, of course, obituaries."

She slipped a comment with questions into the last blog posting that merits a broader audience.

Kate writes: Have the number of papers that print "every-day Joe" obits in recent years, grown? (Those being, of course, obits not about famous people.)

Does anyone have any figures on this? Newspapers that have added the Everyman Obit?

Secondly, I'm also looking for hard evidence of whether the obituary's grown in popularity, period, in recent years.

Got any answers or comments for her?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

SPOW in the news

The Society of Professional Obituary Writers Awards and the recent obit writers workshop in Portland, Ore., are getting some media attention.

The Philadelphia Daily News ran a story on May 15, 2008, titled Former DN obit writer Nicholson wins life honor about DN (Daily News, not Death Notice) retiree Jim Nicholson receiving SPOW's first Lifetime Achievement Award in Obituary Writing.

Nicholson says of the photo that ran with the story, "I think they used my high school prom pic, but that's OK."

To see a more recent Nicholson mug, go to the SPOW Awards page.

Adam Bernstein gave a workshop report titled "Conference of Death" on the Washington Post's Post Mortem blog on May 14, 2008.

The blog provides a link to Adam's article titled Death Beat: the Art of Advanced Obituaries which was posted in Global Journalist on Feb. 12, 2008.

Joe Strupp told Editor and Publisher readers about who won SPOW Awards in his May 14, 2008, article: Obit Writer Awards Honor 'AJC' and Toronto's 'Globe and Mail.'

Tim Bullamore got some press coverage in the U.K. in the Bath Chronicle - OBITUARY WRITER SCOOPS INTERNATIONAL AWARD - and the University of Bath's Centre for Death and Society for receiving SPOW honors.

Do you know of other published accounts of the awards and/or the workshop?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Jobs on the Death Beat

Obituaries Editor - The Washington Post - The Obituaries Editor, while reporting and writing obits, supervises a team of experienced reporters. The duties include assigning and editing stories, scheduling, doing staff evaluations, and coordinating with the News Desk, the Metro Copy Desk, other sections, the Photo Desk and WPNI editors. Previous editing experience is preferred but not a prerequisite. Our policy on obits makes The Post unique in the industry. In addition to reporting on the deaths of the well-known, we will do an obituary on anyone who has lived a substantial portion of his or her life in the Washington region. Obituaries are the news stories that bring The Post into the most intimate contact with its readers. We are looking for someone with an editor's eye and a reporter's zest, someone who can move the paper further along in its quest to deliver the best news obituaries anywhere. FMI: click here. (Note: This position will likely be filled internally.)

Obit Clerk/Typist - The Poughkeepsie Journal - The Poughkeepsie Journal Classified advertising department has an immediate opening for an organized, detail oriented individual. Responsibilities include typing obituaries, wedding, engagement and anniversary announcements. Additional duties include daily input of legal notices, employment line ads as well as inputting customer ads into the information system. This is a 30 hour per week position with a somewhat flexible schedule; evenings, weekends and holidays hours required. Excellent benefits, including 401(k) Savings Plan. FMI: click here.

Obituary Clerk/Typist - The Observer-Dispatch - Responsible for typing obituaries into the system, working with funeral directors to proof obits and price out. Part-time; 15 hours per week. Fri. 4:30pm-8pm, Sat. 1pm-8pm, Sun. 5pm-8pm or until job is done. Must have a working knowledge of computers and excellent typing skills. FMI: click here.

Monday, May 12, 2008

People's Picks

Although it did not count toward the final tallies for official winners in the Society of Professional Obituary Writers 2008 Awards, more than 100 individuals voted for their favorites in several categories in SPOW's online "People's Picks" popularity poll.

The following obit writers receive bragging rights from their adoring public:

Gerry Hostetler: Best tribute, memoir, column or retrospective piece (800 words and under) for her column about the death of a female impersonator titled Clay and Tracy shared big heart, a gift for dance.

Daniel Asa Rose: Best tribute, memoir, column or retrospective piece (over 800 words) for Fare Thee Well, Ex-Father-In-Law

Gayle Ronan Sims: Best long-form obituary (over 800 words) about a celebrity or famous person for her obit of Marie Hicks, 83, the Rosa Parks of Girard College.

Gayle Ronan Sims again: Best long-form obituary (over 800 words) about an Average Joe or non- celebrity for her story, Michael and Ida Carrozza: 1908-2006: Sweethearts who died as they lived. Here's the jump page.

Gayle Ronan Sims, third one: Best multimedia presentation of an obit or life story, Master Gunnery Sgt. Nicholas Formosa. See the previous blog posting - Best Multimedia Presentation of an Obit - for links.

Kay Powel: Best short-form obituary (800 words and under) about a celebrity or famous person: Arnold Hardy, 85, took Pulitzer-winning photo.

Kay Powell again: Best short-form obituary (800 words and under) about an Average Joe or non-celebrity: Thelma Hogan, 79, was restaurant fixture.

Kay Powell, third time: Best Body of Work. (See previous blog item - Best Body of Work - for links to stories.)

Kay Powell, four altogether: Lifetime Achievement. Read the nominating letter.

Thanks for voting, folks.

Jim Nicholson's "Acceptance Speech"

In a letter dated May 11, 2008, Jim Nicholson told the Society of Professional Obituary Writers:

I am deeply honored and humbled to have been selected to receive the first Lifetime Achievement Award of SPOW. Thank you.

On a very personal level it represents a final – and official - vindication.

Nearly 26 years ago when I began this new (the first obit page of any kind for the paper) obituary page for the Philadelphia Daily News, my column had the support of Assistant Managing Editor Tom Livingston, the original sponsor who thought we could not be a full service newspaper without an obit page, and Zack Stalberg, Editor of the Daily News.

Aside from them, in those early days, there were few supporters or fans in my own newsroom. The detractors were many, who viewed a 25-inch obit on a maintenance worker as a ludicrous waste of space.

We can all remember when the obituary writing job was reserved for old-timers spooling out their line, youngsters who needed to practice taking information error-free and others who were consigned by management to a short-term punishment or a long-term exile.

How the world of obit writing – and how the world perceives it - has changed in a quarter century. And each of you, individually, changed it because of who you are and how well you do what you do.

Never could I have imagined living to see the day when the craft of obituary writing would be so over-flowing with talent. Men and woman in a steep ascendancy as writers and reporters, indeed, many at an apex, choosing to be obituary writers. The roster of talent writing obits today defies logic.

No award in life ever means more than one which comes from a jury of one’s peers. And what peers!!

Thank you again. I remain,
Your Obedient Servant,
Jim Nicholson

Nicholson has accepted an invitation to speak at the Society of Professional Obituary Writers Convention that will be held April 23-25, 2009, in Charlotte, N.C.

SPOW's First Lifetime Achievement Award

Jim Nicholson, retired Philadelphia Daily News obituary writer, is the recipient of the Society of Professional Obituary Writers first Lifetime Achievement Award.

In her letter nominating Jim for this honor, Marilyn Johnson, author of The Dead Beat, said: His 19 years of obituaries for the Daily News, an estimated 20,000 of them, laid waste to the presumption that most lives are ordinary.

Before Nicholson, there were people important enough to note in passing, and those who weren’t; after Nicholson, if the subject of an obituary seemed ordinary, it was because the reporter had not dug deep enough.

Nicholson’s campaign to dignify every subject with his laser-beam attention – and the delicacy and generosity with which he wrote about their flawed lives-- was an innovation and a tremendous success. It immediately gave the Daily News an authentic voice in the local community and a standing in the national one.

Nicholson and the paper were honored early on by the American Society of Newspaper Editors, and the idea of using the obit page to tell life stories spread. Nicholson became something of an evangelist on this subject; he used to send out “obit kits” with samples and lists of questions and tips on resources.

His influence, eight years after his retirement, can be seen today on the obit pages of newspapers in the U.S. and beyond, embracing writers, editors, readers, funeral directors, and survivors.

The chapter I wrote about him for The Dead Beat makes a lengthier case for his influence.

I’ve attached a few of his obituaries from the Daily News archives, which demonstrate his skill, originality, and uncanny knack for (as one of his fellow obit writers put it) leaving the ground and taking off into the stratosphere.

Read some examples of his work here.

Best Body of Work

The Society of Professional Obituary Writers 2008 Award for Best Body of Work - which is the top SPOW Award for obits written in 2007 - is shared by Tom Hawthorn, a freelance writer from British Columbia, and Kay Powell, a staff obit writer from Georgia.

We've provided some biographical information on both winners in previous blog postings. Both have won SPOW Awards in other categories.

Here are the obits that swayed the judges:

Five of Tom Hawthorn's obits published in the Toronto-based Globe and Mail:

1. Jack Winter

2.Roy Borthwick

3. Mickey Rutner

4. James Barber

5. Don Leslie

Five of Kay Powell's obits published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

1. Valerie Daniel

2. Tillie Wood

3. Claude Miller

4. Boyzie Daniels

5. Arnold Hardy

Best Multimedia Presentation of an Obit

Gayle Ronan Sims of the Philadelphia Inquirer, who has given workshop presentations on how to use audio, video, slideshows, etc., to enhance an obituary, has won the Society of Professional Obituary Writers 2008 Award for Best multimedia presentation of an obit or life story.

Her winning entry about Master Gunnery Sgt. Nicholas Formosa included:
1. The obituary and its jump page;
2. A photo slide show accompanied by the voices of Formosa's wife and a fellow Marine;
3. A Marine Corps training video in which Formosa was the instructor.

Gayle Ronan Sims has bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She worked at the Denver Post for 12 years as news editor, features editor and editor of the Sunday lifestyle magazine.

She has been with The Philadelphia Inquirer since 1987. Gayle has been a news editor, a features editor, graphics editor and chief obituary writer for six years.

She is making the big push to awaken the online giant in the obituary section of The Inquirer.

Best tribute/memoir/column or retrospective - long and short

Writers for Obit Magazine won Society of Professional Obituary Writer Awards in Categories #5 (long-form) and #6 (short-form) for Best tribute, memoir, column or retrospective piece.

Daniel Asa Rose won for the long-form tribute/memoir with Fare Thee Well, Ex-Father-In-Law, which draws readers immediately with the sentence: Just because you break up with a woman is no reason to break up with her Dad.

Judy Bachrach took short-form memoir honors with her Remembering Ruth Graham, in which she talks about interviewing the wife of legendary evangelist Billy Graham.

Judy ended the piece with a Ruth Graham quote from Patricia Cornwell's biography of Ruth (Ruth: A Portrait), in which she expressed sincere regrets about marrying the evangelist in 1943.

"After the joy and satisfaction of knowing that I am his by rights and his forever, I will slip into the background," Ruth wrote long ago in her journal. "In short, be a lost life. Lost in Bill's."

Judy Bachrach is a frequent contributor to Obit. She is also a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and has previously written for the Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun and the Washington Star.

She is the author of Tina and Harry Come to America: Tina Brown, Harry Evans, and the Uses of Power (Free Press, 2001).

Daniel Asa Rose is the editor of the international literary magazine THE READING ROOM and a regular book reviewer for The New York Observer and New York Magazine. He has served as arts & culture editor of the Forward newspaper, travel columnist for Esquire magazine, humor writer for GQ, essayist for The New York Times Magazine, and food critic for the past 20 pounds.

Read his other work at www.danielasarose.com.

Best Short-Form obit about an Average Joe

Carol Smith of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer won the Society of Professional Obituary Writers 2008 Award in Category #4: Best short-form obituary (800 words and under) about an Average Joe or non- celebrity with her story, Dying vet planned a final mission.

It's the story of retired Air Force Lt. Col. Rob Lutz, a former Air Commando pilot, who with less than 72 hours to live orchestrated a plan from his hospital bed that allowed him to take a final flight.

Carol told us: After this story ran, I heard from readers around the country who were moved by this man's efforts to accomplish his final wish against the odds. I think the response reflects a universal desire we have to meet fate on our own terms.

Carol Smith is an enterprise reporter and narrative writing coach for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, where she has covered a variety of beats, including science, medicine, and the working poor since 1997.

She is also a frequent obit-writer for the paper, where she also helped launch the paper's "People" team to get more profiles, obits and narrative stories about extraordinary "ordinary" people in the paper.

The PEN USA Literary Foundation, the American Association of Sunday and Features Editors, the Society of Professional Journalists, Best of the West and others, have recognized her work nationally and regionally. She has also been recognized for her investigative work, and was a co-finalist for Harvard University's Goldsmith Prize in Investigative Journalism.

Her work was a 2006 finalist for the PEN Literary awards, and was also included in "The Best Creative Nonfiction," published June, 2007, by W. W. Norton & Company.

Prior to joining the Seattle P-I, Smith freelanced for the Los Angeles Times, Redbook magazine and other publications.

Best Short-Form Obit about a Celebrity

The competition for the Society of Professional Obituary Writers Award in Category #3: Best short-form obituary (800 words and under) about a celebrity or famous person resulted in a tie between two American obit writers from the same paper.

Holly Crenshaw wrote the SPOW Award winning obit, Margaret Anne Barnes, 'Murder in Coweta' author, for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Holly shares the award with Kay Powell and Kay's obit for Arnold Hardy, 85, took Pulitzer-winning photo.

Holly Crenshaw has worked for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution since 1984 as a news researcher, local news reporter, arts writer, assistant editor and online producer. She has been writing obituaries for the AJC since 2005.

She earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Memphis and a master's degree from Emory University.

Kay Powell has been writing obituaries for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution since 1996.

Before joining the AJC in 1994 she was a research scientist at Georgia Tech, director of a community development program, self-employed seminar presenter, copy writer, accountant for Red Cross disasters, model and actor in industrial films and worked for the Georgia Public Service Commission.

When not being the Doyenne of the Death Beat, she plays bridge.

Best Long-Form Obit about an Average Joe

Tom Hawthorn wrote the winning obit in the Society of Professional Obituary Writers 2008 Awards Category #2: Best long-form (over 800 words) obituary about an Average Joe or non-celebrity.

His 'Tattooed king of the midway' was a tough act to swallow tells the story of Don Leslie, a carnival performer known for his "legendary finale" that "involved the insertion into his mouth of five long swords."

Tom writes that Leslie "eventually abandoned the stunt after an accident in Seattle in 1989 when he came within a razor's edge of becoming a living kebob."

When colleagues toasted Tom at the awards presentation in Portland, Ore., May 10, for winning the SPOW Award, Tom responded with a line from Leslie's obit: "Down the hatch without a scratch."

Tom Hawthorn is an independent Canadian newspaper and magazine writer known for his award-winning features. His sports writing has been included in several anthologies.

Read his columns at www.tomhawthorn.blogspot.com.

Best Long-Form Obit about a Celebrity

The Society of Professional Obituary Writers Category #1: Best long-form (over 800 words) obituary about a celebrity or famous person.

And the winner is. (Dramatic pause.) We have a tie.

The winning entries are Natalia Karp, an obit that Tim Bullamore wrote for the Daily Telegraph of London, and Mr. Toronto Dies at 92, written for the Globe and Mail of Canada by Sandra Martin. (Here's the Mr. Toronto jump page.)

Do you want to know about the winners?

Tim Bullamore is one of the leading obituary writers and researchers in Britain, but his byline doesn't appear as often as it should because some British publications don't include author bylines on obits.

His work is published regularly in the Daily Telegraph and has appeared in The (London) Times, The Guardian and The Independent.

He is in demand on both sides of the Atlantic to speak about the art of the British obituary and has been featured in publications on three continents. In 2005, he hosted the International Association of Obituarists 7th Great Obituary Writers Conference in his home town, Bath, UK.

In addition to his writing commitments, Tim is studying for a PhD, investigating the history and art of the British obituary.

Sandra Martin, a senior feature writer with The Globe and Mail, has won the Atkinson and Canadian Journalism Fellowships and gold and silver National Magazine Awards.

Her latest book is The First Man in My Life: Daughters Write About Their Fathers, which she conceived and edited for Penguin in 2007. She was the co-editor of the annual Oberon Best Short Stories and Coming Attractions anthologies from 1984 through 1986.

Sandra is the co-author of three books, including Rupert Brooke in Canada and Card Tricks: Bankers, Boomers and the Explosion of Plastic Credit, which was shortlisted for the Canadian Business Book Award in 1993.

A past president of PEN Canada, she is the mother of a grown son and daughter. She lives in Toronto with her husband, historian Roger Hall, and her cat, Alice.

Sandra provided the following background on Ed Mirvish, a.k.a. Mr. Toronto:

He was a huge celebrity in Toronto, a poor boy who was a whiz at marketing and who made a fortune in a "small box" store that offered cheap prices to immigrants and only took cash payment.

He was a larger than life character. Once he made his money, he acquired a lot of cultural capital by rescuing The Old Vic in England and building The Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto.

He had been ailing for years, so I had prepared an obituary on him some time ago, but I had forgotten about it when he finally died.

There was a big push on that day because we are a national paper and there is a local paper, The Toronto Star, that has a bigger circulation in the city than we do.

There was a big scramble, and I found my stuff and then there was a huge rush to re-work and update my material because they wanted to go big and run the obituary over two pages.

(Blog-editor's note: When Catherine Dunphy of The Toronto Star saw the entries for the SPOW Awards, she said, "Cast my vote for Mr. Toronto." The two Toronto-produced papers may compete with one another, but a good obit is a good obit no matter where it's published.)

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Congratulations, Winners of 2008 Society of Professional Obituary Writers Awards

The Society of Professional Obituary Writers announced the winners of the group's inaugural awards Saturday during the professional obit writers workshop in Portland, Ore., Saturday.

Winning entries for official SPOW Awards were determined by scores offered by SPOW judges.

Just for fun, SPOW also allowed the public to vote for their favorites. The "People's Picks" were tallied separately for bragging rights only.

Obit writers winning official SPOW Awards are:
Tim Bullamore, Daily Telegraph of London;
Sandra Martin, Globe and Mail of Canada;
Tom Hawthorn, Globe and Mail;
Kay Powell, Atlanta Journal Constitution;
Holly Crenshaw, Atlanta Journal Constitution;
Carol Smith, Seattle Post-Intelligencer;
Daniel Asa Rose, Obit Magazine;
Judy Bachrach, Obit Magazine;
Gayle Ronan Sims, Philadelphia Inquirer;
Jim Nicholson, Philadelphia Daily News, retired.

In the People's Picks, Gayle Ronan Sims won in three of the nine categories, Kay Powell in four. Gerry Hostetler of the Charlotte Observer and Daniel As Rose also were named favorites.

Stand by. We'll explain who won what in separate blog items. We'll soon post it all on the SPOW Awards page.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Astonishing AP correction

About time!

Correction: Obit-Gardner story
41 words
8 May 2008
(c) 2008. The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

BOSTON (AP) - In a Sept. 17, 2004, obituary for songwriter Donald Yetter Gardner, The Associated Press misstated the year he wrote "All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth." It was 1944, not 1947.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Pro-Obama Death Notice

NYTimes 5/6/2008

NICHOLS--Cicely, 70, activist, editor, writer, entrepreneur. Her West Village, NYC home was a hub for a broad range of artists, musicians, writers, intellectuals, and activists at the heart of numerous movements. She was a leader in the fight for justice and inspired others to believe in themselves, each other, and their dreams. Memorial: 6:30pm, May 11, Greenwich House Music School, 46 Barrow St. No flowers; please give to cancer research by Dr. Herbert Chen, information: gastrinoma@aol.com, 608-263-2434. Vote Obama!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Vote now! Polls are open for Society of Professional Obituary Writers contest!

Go to the Awards page of the Society of Professional Obituary Writers Web site, click a category, read the obits and vote for your favorites.

The public polling won't affect the outcome of the official awards, which will be decided by SPOW members only. But the people's choice results will be announced at the May 11th awards presentation at the Professional Obituary Writers Workshop at The Oregonian in Portland, Ore.

Good luck to all who entered, and thanks to all who vote.

Even if you don't vote, you'll want to read these wonderful once-in-a-lifetime stories.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Review entries for the 2008 Society of Professional Obituary Writers Awards

Some of the best obituaries written in 2007 by some of the best obituary writers in the United States, Canada and United Kingdom have been entered in the first Society of Professional Obituary Writers Awards competition.

Entries are gradually being posted on the SPOW Awards page.

As the entries are posted, the public can view them by clicking the various contest categories.

The text of the entries for "Best body of work" are online now. Some have links to the stories as they appeared in newspapers or online publications. Other links will be added soon.

Although only the votes of SPOW members will count toward selecting official award winners, nonmembers will be able to cast their votes in a "people's choice" poll. The poll will open in the next few days and close on May 7, 2008.

Poll results and SPOW Award winners will be announced during the Professional Obituary Writers Workshop at The Oregonian in Portland, Ore., May 8-11, 2008.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Queen of Sisig

Wikipedia is reporting the murder of Lucita Cunanan - at 80. Anyhow, the Filipino dish she invented or at least perfected is fascinating:


Wednesday, April 09, 2008

NPR report: Newspaper obits vs. online tributes

National Public Radio's "Marketplace" had a segment today - April 9, 2008 - about customized online obits and an already successful Internet entrepreneur who sees the potential for making a killing by posting them for a fee at a central Web site - Tributes.com - which is expected to make its debut in June.

Listen to the report here.

What do you think about that?

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Reminder: Deadline for contest entries is Tuesday.

Attention, obituary writers.

You've got until a few seconds before midnight Tuesday, April 1, 2008, to enter your work in the Society of Professional Obituary Writers contest for distinguished obituary writing of 2007.

Entering is rather simple compared to most other journalism organizations' contests. You can submit the entries and pay the entry fees online. No need to worry about pasting articles on poster board, pay for postage or get to the post office.

SPOW is offering eight opportunities for an obit writer to be recognized. Well, actually nine.

There are eight categories for work that was published during the 2007 calendar year. A $25 fee is required for each of those categories.

The ninth - the Lifetime Achievement Award - doesn't cost a thing. And anyone - even people who are not obituary writers or members of SPOW - can nominate an obituary writer for this honor.

For details on the categories, how to enter the contest, how to make a Lifetime Achievement nomination and the judging process, go to the Society of Professional Obituary Writers Awards page.

Good luck to all who enter and to all who are nominated.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Contest for best obituary writing of 2007 and much more.

The Society of Professional Obituary Writers will present awards for obituary writing in eight categories and a Lifetime Achievement Award in Obituary Writing during the Professional Obituary Writers Workshop at The Oregonian, Portland, Oregon, May 8-11, 2008.

Submitting your best obits published during the 2007 calendar year, paying entry fees and judging will be done online. You and/or your news organization's contest coordinators should appreciate that.

Deadline for entering is April 1, 2008. Five finalists will be selected by a panel of judges – themselves obituary writers. The finalists’ work will be posted on the SPOW Web site beginning April 15 for review by members of SPOW and the general public.

Winners in each category, chosen by SPOW members’ votes, will be announced at the Portland workshop.

Details on the categories and how to enter the contest are posted on the Awards page of the SPOW Web site.

Anyone can nominate a veteran obituary writer for the Lifetime Achievement Award, and there's no fee or membership involved. Letters of nominations should explain how this individual has shown dedication to the craft of obit writing over time.

Want to play a part in choosing the winners? Join SPOW.

Membership is open to journalists who make a living from or get paid to write/edit obits for newspapers, magazines, news blogs, other news organizations, newsletters, etc.

(Educators, scholars and others with a serious interest in obituary writing should be able to become associate members after SPOW members convene for the first time at the Portland workshop.)

No membership fee is required while this organization is in its infancy.

The only immediate privileges of SPOW membership are the right to vote on the five finalists in each contest category, to approve selection of Lifetime Achievement and to elect officers, approve bylaws and plan SPOW's future.

To join, simply send the following information with your name in the subject line to members@obitwriters.org: Name, news organization, job title, mailing address at work, home mailing address (optional), e-mail address(es), phone number(s), and a brief bio with emphasis on your obituary-related work.

Want to know more about the Professional Obituary Writers Workshop in May in Portland, where the first SPOW meeting will be held?

Details on speakers and plans that Oregonian obituary writers Amy Starke and Joan Harvey have planned for workshoppers are posted on SPOW's Development page.

Also on the SPOW Web site are the Workshop Registration Form - registration for the entire event is only $50 - and accommodations information.

Any questions? Write to info@obitwriters.org.