Friday, December 04, 2009

Canwest News Service report on obits study

Shannon Proudfoot of Canwest News Service wrote a report on the obituaries study (mentioned in the previous post) that appeared in newspapers across Canada over the last couple of days.

Some of the stories appear to have been edited. The most complete one appears to be in the Montreal Gazette. Here's the link.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The State of the American Obituary

Patricia Sullivan of The Washington Post has posted an item on the Post Mortem blog about the Medill School of Journalism report on "The State of the American Obituary."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

David Lloyd is dead

The Emmy Award-winning TV comedy writer, who died last week of prostate cancer, penned scripts for "The Bob Newhart Show," "Phyllis," "Rhoda," "Lou Grant," "Taxi," "Cheers" and "Frasier." But he was best known for writing the hilarious "Mary Tyler Moore" episode "Chuckles Bites the Dust."

As an obit writer, I have always enjoyed this humorous look at death and impromptu tributes. In honor of Mr. Lloyd, I offer this video clip of his masterpiece:

Monday, November 02, 2009

Paid Obits from 2008

Dear Obituary writers et al:

Alana mentioned that I would be posting, so here goes:

I'm a public radio producer working on an end-of-year obit series for NPR's All Things Considered. We hope the series will acknowledge deaths from this past year -- as well as the people who memorialized these deaths. As part of the series, we will be doing a segment on paid obits -- read by the people who wrote them. I'm interested in hearing from all of you about your favorite paid obits from this year. If you noticed some that stood out, I'd be grateful if you could send them to me at

Thanks so much for your time.



Sunday, November 01, 2009

A sign of the times

Some people spend their whole lives vying for fame. To get your name up in lights in Iowa, all you have to do is die.

The Iles Funeral Home in Des Moines is now offering electronic obituaries on area billboards. The digital announcements last about 8 seconds and feature the deceased person's name, picture and service details as well as the funeral home's Web site. The extra service is offered at no charge.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Cashing in on the dearly departed

A CBS affiliate in Michigan thinks it can turn on-air obituaries into an important revenue stream.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Kay Powell's mama died

Kay Powell, who wrote fabulous obits for regular folks as well as the rich and famous during her years at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, composed an obit for her mother, Juanita T. Powell, that ran in the AJC's paid obits section and appears on the McLane Funeral Home website:

Kay did a fine job of summing up her mom's professional, social and family life, explaining some details in her own special way.

She provides the following to explain how Mama delighted in sharing her home with family, friends and sometimes strangers:

In fact, after she was widowed, there were 13 toothbrushes in her bathroom, all kept there by people who regularly enjoyed her company.

She evolved into a great cook who turned out a dinner every Sunday then--determined by how much she had cooked--invited whomever she ran in to to join the family table after church where lively, sometimes six-way conversations ensued.

Condolences, Kay.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

How many Ps in Chappaquiddick?

Editor & Publisher tracks the first mention of Chappaquiddick in a roundup of obituaries:

It's always fascinating to see where obituaries first bring up what might be called the biggest (sometimes single) black mark on a notable person's life. Just last week we looked at when news outlets first mentioned the Plame case in covering the death of Robert Novak. So where did leading outlets place the first mention of the Chappaquiddick accident in their obits of Ted Kennedy? E&P's Sam Chamberlain provides the following count. The liberal Boston Globe mentioned it much earlier than the conservative Boston Herald.

NY Daily News- 13th graf

Associated Press- 7th graf

Boston Herald- 10th graf

Boston Globe- 5th graf

NY Times- 14th graf

NY Post- 14th graf

Washington Post- 9th graf

Wall Street Journal- 6th graf

LA Times- 12th graf

Chicago Tribune- 12th graf (same obit as LA Times)

Miami Herald- 10th graf

Reuters- 18th graf

USA Today- 19th graf

Politico- 24th graf


Roll Call-25th graf

National Journal-11th graf

Times of London- 8th graf

Saturday, August 15, 2009

My sister: The obituary cliché

Sometimes standard obituary clichés are true, as you will see in "Alana Baranick's The Dash Between" column titled "Rosalie Miltak Sims and Obituary Clichés" at in what amounts to a eulogy for my sister, who died May 16, 2008.

At the end of the column, I added a link to that long list of obit clichés that Claire Martin compiled and posted on Obituary Forum last year.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The RIPpy Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Obitutainment

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The Rippy Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Obitutainment - Crypts
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorJoke of the Day

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Rippy Awards - Celebrity Crypts
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorJoke of the Day

Farewell Footage

In the past two years, producers at The New York Times on the Web have stockpiled more than two dozen video obits of famous subjects. Ten more are currently "in production."

"There is editing and production and interviewing, and it takes time. You have to do a lot of research, get archival footage, acquire rights to things and go through our own video library," David Rummel, the Times senior producer for news and documentary, told Editor & Publisher magazine.

At the time of this writing, The Times has published four Vobits: Art Buchwald, Dith Pran, Odetta and Stewart Mott. In each case, the Website agreed to keep the involvement and identity of the subject confidential until the time of death.

Is your news organization doing this? If not, why not?

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Librarians at your service

In case you missed a posting about this new librarian website, check it out.
It's staffed by librarians who are happy to answer death-related questions.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Jeff Goldblum has died. Twitter says so.

Without putting it into words, Stephen Colbert made an excellent point on the Colbert Report on Comedy Central June 29, 2009, when he reported the death of actor Jeff Goldblum based on information provided by Twitter.

It's the same thing as the obit writer's Rule No. 1: Make sure they're dead. And Rule No. 2 is like unto it: Make sure your sources are reliable.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Jeff Goldblum Will Be Missed
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorJeff Goldblum

Monday, June 29, 2009

Limited time offers

This week's celebrity dead — Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson. But wait! There's more!! Billy Mays.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Gayle Ronan Sims' last obit: Ed McMahon

Before Gayle Ronan Sims went into the hospital for a lung transplant a couple of months ago, she completed the finishing touches on the advance obit she wrote about Ed McMahon, Johnny Carson's TV sidekick on "The Tonight Show."

She requested that we post that obit on the Obituary Forum when McMahon's time came. It's time now. McMahon died this morning (June 23, 2009).

Gayle's time came sooner. She died April 16, 2009, not long after undergoing transplant surgery.
Her byline appears on McMahon's obit in today's Philadelphia Inquirer. (Per Philly Inky policy, this link will not remain online indefinitely. Once it disappears from the Internet, it can be ordered from the Inquirer archives.)

She began the obit this way: Ed McMahon, 86, who began his half-century television career in Philadelphia before becoming Johnny Carson's sidekick on The Tonight Show where his stentorian booming announcement "Heeere's Johnny!" became his trademark, died this morning.

Gayle's story gets front-page treatment on the newspaper's mainpage at

Gayle was the champion of incorporating multimedia into obits. She probably was responsible for assembling the slideshow that accompanies his obit.

As was her custom, I'm sure Gayle searched for video of McMahon and designated at least one video that would be appropriate to run with his obit. I'm guessing its omission was an oversight on the part of the folks who posted the obit online this morning. Perhaps it will be added later.

In the meantime, here's a video of McMahon in his role as straight man to Carson's Karnak the Magnificent.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Non-pro seeks feedback from pro obit writers

In an email to the Society of Professional Obituary Writers, corporate writer Susan C. McGarry wrote that she recently penned her father’s obit and would like to get comments from those who write obits professionally.

Those of you who prefer to respond to her privately rather than making a public comment on Obituary Forum can get Susan's contact info from Alana Baranick.

Here's the obituary Susan wrote for her father:

L. Benjamin Clark, 76, of Scottsdale, Ariz., passed away June 1, 2009, after a blessedly brief battle with cancer.

Beloved father, husband, grandfather, friend and teacher, Ben was born Sept. 22, 1932, in Livingston County, Ill., to Leonard and Alice McKinney Clark. Raised in the small town of Chenoa, Ill., he was an avid track and football athlete at Chenoa High School, where he still held the shot put record of 52’ 8" when the school closed in 2004. Ben went on to star at the University of Illinois and at Illinois State University, playing football and setting a school shot put record at ISU as well.

While at ISU, Ben met Bettyglen "B.G" Render of Bloomington, and they married in 1953. Ben graduated from ISU in 1955 with degrees in business education and physical education, and taught at school in Milford, Mt. Morris and Palmyra before moving his family to Rock Island, in 1960. He found Rock Island to be an enjoyable place to raise a family, and his teaching and coaching career blossomed.

The strongly built 6’ 4" teacher and track and football coach was a fixture on the local sports scene, also serving as Rock Island High School’s athletic department business manager. He was admired by his students and the athletes he coached, as well as by his peers, who often enjoyed his friendly style and desire to bring a smile and laugh to those around him. A brick paver in his honor is installed on the plaza at the Rocky Fieldhouse.

Ben retired from Rocky in 1989, and he and B.G. headed to Mesa, Ariz., for retirement. But a kicked-back retirement wasn’t for Ben. He started a second career in teaching and coaching for Mesa Public Schools and became very active in Senior Olympics, competing and winning medals at the local, regional and national levels. He took up hobbies in photography and genealogy but his zest for sports remained a focus of his life. He retired again in 1995.

Known as "Benny" in his younger years, then as "Big Ben" by his students, friends and family, in later life he was affectionately known as "Boompa" by his three grandchildren, whom he adored.

Surviving are his wife, B.G., Scottsdale; daughters, Carol Clark and her husband, David Hassard, Albuquerque, N.M., and Susan Albrecht McGarry and her husband, Patrick McGarry, Scottsdale. He is also survived by three grandchildren, Beth (Hassard) Diven and her husband, Matt Diven, Fort Collins, Colo., and Ben Albrecht and Ted Albrecht, both of Phoenix. He is further survived by sister-in-law, Joanne Clark, brother-in-law Tjark Rients; as well as by nieces, nephews, many other relatives and many friends. He was preceded in death by his parents; three brothers, Arthur, Lemuel and William; and a sister, Mary Agnes.

Ben’s talents as a teacher and coach, his sense of humor, his generous manner, his love of family and his passion for all things sports will be remembered with love. A special and unique man, he will be dearly missed.

A celebration of Ben’s life will be held on Saturday, June 13, at Beck Memorial Home at 11 a.m. in Bloomington, Ill. Visitation will be from 10 to 11 a.m. followed by a memorial service and interment at Park Hill Cemetery in Bloomington with Jerry Hoffman presiding. The family asks that donations be made to the Ben Clark Memorial Fund through the Rock Island-Milan Education Foundation, 2101 6th Ave., Rock Island, IL 61201, to support athletes in need at Rock Island High School. Donations may also be made to the American Cancer Society. Arrangements are being handled by Beck Memorial Home, Bloomington.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Not inside a pineapple necessarily, but definitely under the sea

In case you didn't read the first comment on the previous blog post, here's a link to Eternal Reefs, an underwater destination for cremated remains:

Interview with Joan Harvey of The Oregonian

Justin Nobel, a blogger who wrote obits for the Point Reyes Light after our colleague Larken Bradley left that paper for the West Marin Citizen, recently sought an interview with a member of the Society of Professional Obituary Writers.

He got one with Joan Harvey.

You can read it on Justin's blog at:

Friday, May 29, 2009

Introducing the Grim Reader, weekly obit commentary

Hi all,

Just wanted to pass a quick note about Obit-mag's newest column, The Grim Reader, a commentary-laden round up of the week's obits in papers and mags around the world. Did the obits skirt important issues, bury underlying historical narratives, or trump up achievements of little worth? The Grim Reader spares no one...

tell me what you think about format and scope... and do comment on Michael Schaffer's assessments...

hope you are doing well...

Monday, May 18, 2009

"Larry's Kidney" by Daniel Asa Rose, SPOW Award winner

Daniel Asa Rose, who received a 2008 Society of Professional Obituary Writers Award for his memoir-form obit titled "Fare Thee Well, Ex-Father-In-Law," has a new book out with the unlikely title, "LARRY'S KIDNEY: Being the True Story of How I Found Myself in China With my Black-Sheep Cousin and his Mail-Order Bride, Skirting the Law to Get Him a Transplant ... and Save His Life."

Be sure to view the video of Daniel explaining the circumstances of this "dark comedy about medical tourism" on his Web site -

Monday, May 11, 2009

Desirée Strand, as remembered by her sister

Justine Strand, an associate professor at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., wrote to the Society of Professional Obituary Writers about the obituary she wrote for her sister Desirée Strand.

In her email message, Justine wrote: I believe the obituary is far more important than any service. I wanted people who never knew my sister to read the obit and say, "What a fascinating and beautiful woman. I wish I could have known her."

I believe Justine has succeeded in her mission. Here's her sister's obit. What do you think?

Desirée Strand

In a parallel universe, Desirée Strand is planning a 54th birthday bash in Paris this July with her closest friends. In the limited dimension we inhabit, she died April 30, 2009 in Durham after years of ever-worsening multiple sclerosis (MS), blessed with dementia that made her unaware of the ravages of the disease.

Born Linda Joan Strand in Ridgecrest, California, she was a genius who defied convention. A willowy strawberry blonde, she was a talented pianist so fluent in French that Parisians never guessed she was American.

Her passion was exobiology, the study of life on other planets. She enjoyed brief success as a science writer until her career was cut short by MS.

She loved Mars, and wrote in Astronomy in December 1983: “Although the existence of water in liquid form on the martian surface is highly improbable at present, that does not exclude the possibility that it may exist either as ice or water vapor.” In May 2008 elated scientists reported that the Phoenix spacecraft had found ice on Mars.

In the June 1984 issue of Astronomy she warned that NASA’s decision not to sterilize the Galileo probe might result in contamination of the planet with terrestrial anaerobic bacteria. In 2003 NASA crash-landed Galileo into Jupiter to avoid the risk of contaminating Jupiter’s ice-covered moon Europa with earthly microbes.

She counted among her friends and colleagues Carl Sagan and Jacques Vallee (fictionalized as the character portrayed by François Truffaut in Close Encounters of the Third Kind). Vallee granted her a rare interview which was published in the then-obscure MUFON Journal in May 1988; he liked it so much he republished it in the paperback version of his book Dimensions: a casebook of alien contact.

Linda asked to change her name to Desirée as MS began to destroy her mental functioning, perhaps memorializing the shift from the person she was. Among her last words were “MS is not me.”

An important focus of her life was Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism, which she practiced from her teen years until MS made her unable to recall how to chant Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo.

Desirée was predeceased by her mother, Arlene Strand.

She is survived by her father, Neall Strand of Durham, sisters Justine Strand of Durham and Jane Hoffman of Bremerton, Washington; nieces Hailey Hoffman of Washington, DC, Miranda Jackson and grand niece Olivia Jackson of Bremerton, Washington; brother in law Jasiel de Oliveira and nephew Jackson de Oliveira of Durham.

A memorial gathering of family and friends is tentatively planned for June. Arrangements by the Cremation Society of the Carolinas. Online condolences @

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Student scams obit writers around the world

Shane Fitzgerald, a student at the University of Dublin, purposely posted a fake quotation on Wikipedia and attributed it to Maurice Jarre. When the Oscar-winning French composer died in March, the following quote appeared in hundreds of obits:

"One could say my life itself has been one long soundtrack. Music was my life, music brought me to life, and music is how I will be remembered long after I leave this life. When I die there will be a final waltz playing in my head, that only I can hear."

According to AFP, Fitzgerald said he started the hoax as an experiment for his research on globalisation. While I disdain his actions and believe he should feel ashamed for trivializing Jarre's death for his own gain, I also see this scam as a reminder for all of us to double- and triple-check our sources. Some people just can't be trusted.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Andrew Meacham's SPOW Convention report

Andrew Meacham, who writes Epilogue feature obits for the St. Petersburg Times, took notes as fast and as furiously as a court reporter - but by hand - at the Society of Professional Obituary Writers (SPOW) Convention in Charlotte, N.C., April 23-25, 2009.

Here's a portion of the convention report he wrote for Sidebar, his paper's in-house newsletter:

My goal at this meeting of a new group for obituary writers was to absorb everything I could.

We discussed how to get ordinary people to supply those critical moments in a subject’s life that lead to a memorable obit.

We debated the relative merits of anonymous vs. bylined obits.

And we pondered which is better, the New York Times style of unrolling the deceased’s name and a descriptive clause in the lede and then “killing” the person off vs. delaying the death announcement to mid-story or the end.

A number of suggestions sounded familiar:
(1) Ask sources about the obstacles or challenges the deceased may have overcome.
(2) Look for the unusual, and ask explicitly for it.
(3) Don’t forget to ask about the deceased’s annoying, even obnoxious, traits.

Cheryl Carpenter, managing editor of the Charlotte Observer, gave a pep talk about the tendency of people in all fields to grow exponentially while young, then flatten out for decades of professional competency.

“For real mastery,” she said, “the growth curve never has to stop.”

In a sign of the times, the conference attracted only about 15 people. But SPOW's obit contest drew scores of entries in the print, online and broadcast categories.

Two observations from that:
(1) The feature obit is popular with readers, whether the subjects are famous or not, and
(2) Obits translate well into video.

You don’t have to be Dateline or 60 Minutes to excel.

Dick Russ, managing editor of WKYC-Ch. 3 in Cleveland, won in the broadcast obit category with a piece on Indians pitcher-turned-announcer Herb Score, whose brilliant start ended when he took a line drive to the face.

Russ overlaid the narration with still photos, old baseball footage and a song about Score, who eventually returned to the mound but was never the same. His follow-through had changed, analysts said, and he seemed to turn slightly away from the plate at the end of each pitch, as if he were about to duck.

The obit ended with the question Cleveland fans have long asked about Score: What might have been?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Final edition

Further praise for the modern obituary from Stefany Anne Golberg in The Smart Set from Drexel University.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

2009 SPOW Convention and Awards reports

Kathy Haight penned "Obit writers share lives of regular folks," a report on the Society of Professional Obituary Writers convention held April 23-25, 2009, in Charlotte, N.C. The article appeared in The Charlotte Observer on Sunday, April 26, 2009.

Our thanks to Joe Strupp senior editor, Editor and Publisher, for sharing the list of SPOW Award winners with E&P online readers Monday, April 27, 2009.

We expect that firsthand reports on the convention will be posted soon by those who attended. Y'all come back again, y'hear? (Evidence that I, a Rust Belt resident, spent too much time in the South this past week.)

Saturday, April 25, 2009

And the winners are . . . .

The winners of the 2009 Society of Professional Obituary Writers Awards were announced Saturday, April 25, 2009, at the organization's convention in Charlotte, N.C.

Ron Csillag, a freelance writer from Toronto, Ontario, who pens obits for The Globe and Mail, took home two of the five juried awards. He won awards for Best Body of Work and Best Obituary for an Average Joe with his obit for poet Eric Layman.

Holly Crenshaw of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution earned top honors in the Best Obituary for a Well-Known Figure category with her obit for pianist/homemaker Dorothy Myers.

Dick Russ of WKYC-TV in Cleveland, Ohio, won Best Obituary honors for Broadcast Media with his obit for Cleveland Indians pitcher and announcer Herb Score.

The Best Online Obituary winner was Kevin Nance for an obituary titled "Don't Tell Chuck" - about Charleton Heston - which was published in Obit Magazine.

SPOW honored Gerry Hostetler, retired Charlotte Observer obituary columnist, with its Lifetime Achievement Award.

Gayle Ronan Sims, the Philadelphia Inquirer obituary writer who died April 16, was remembered with the unveiling of the Gayle Ronan Sims Award for Excellence, Professionalism and Spirit.

Also announced were the winners of the just-for-fun People's Picks online poll:
Body of Work: Tom Hawthorn, Globe and Mail;
Well-Known Figure: Sandra Martin, Globe and Mail, Richard Monette;
Average Joe: Gayle Ronan Sims, Philadelphia Inquirer,F. Culver, 100;
Online: Judy Bachrach, Obit Magazine, Yves St. Laurent;
Broadcast: Dick Russ, WKYC-TV, Herb Score.

Congratulations to the winners.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Philly Inky obit for Gayle Ronan Sims

Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Jeff Gammage's obituary for Inquirer obituary writer Gayle Ronan Sims ran in her home paper today - April 24, 2009 - eight days after she died at age 61.

Why the delay? Gammage described Gayle as:
an obituary writer who wanted neither a funeral nor an obituary for herself.

Her family tried to respect her wishes, but ultimately gave in to pressure from Gayle's peers and the realization that readers would wonder why her byline had disappeared.

Fellow members of the Society of Professional Obituary Writers (SPOW) will remember Gayle tomorrow (Sunday, April 25, 2009) during the SPOW Awards Luncheon in Charlotte, N.C., with the unveiling of the Gayle Ronan Sims Award for Excellence, Professionalism and Spirit.

The organization had planned several weeks ago - before Gayle went into the hospital for lung transplant surgery - to surprise her by establishing the award and presenting it to her.

Gayle had planned to act as the local host of the 2010 SPOW Convention in Philadelphia. Her colleagues will still hold the convention in Philly in her memory. Tentative dates: April 22-24, 2010.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Chuck's parting gift — low, low rates

Check out this paid notice from the Arizona Republic:

Chuck P. Dimmick

Dimmick, Chuck P.
born December 29, 1958 in Riverside, CA passed away suddenly on April 18, 2009 while attending a NASCAR race to watch his favorite driver, Jeff Gordon. Chuck was the loving husband of Kristen and devoted father of Dillon. Chuck was the Director of Marketing for the Lund Cadillac Group. We are sure he would still want all to know that 0.9% financing is still available on all New 2008 Hummer H2's. A mass celebrating Chuck's life will be held at 11:00 AM on Friday, April 24th at St. Patrick's Church - 10815 N. 84th St. Scottsdale, AZ. Arrangements handled by Hansen Desert Hill Mortuary 480-991-5800. In Lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Dillon Dimmick Donation Fund at any Bank of America.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Electronic Way of Death

Latest update on online memorials. Critical question apparently never asked: is anybody actually making money selling such stuff?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Farewell Gayle

Just got word from Adam Bernstein that Gayle Ronan Sims, obits editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, has just died.

Many in obitworld were aware of her recent health setbacks. She never recovered from double lung transplant surgery last month.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Change of venue for Society of Professional Obituary Writers Convention

The Society of Professional Obituary Writers will still hold its 2009 Convention April 23-25, 2009, in Charlotte, N.C.

But the venue has changed. The new convention site is Dunhill Hotel, 237 N. Tryon St., Charlotte, N.C.

It's around the corner from Mert's Heart and Soul Restaurant - about a 1-minute walk according to Google maps - where the convention kickoff dinner will be held April 23.

To register for the convention, go to

To get a special convention rate on a room at Dunhill, contact Leah Collier at

Thursday, March 19, 2009

What could it mean?

This morning I received an e-mail from a woman in the military asking this question: "What does (MBBF) mean after a child’s name on an obituary?"

Any ideas?

Thank you.

Larken Bradley

Friday, March 13, 2009

Slight change in SPOW Convention speakers

Scott Karp, CEO of, will speak at the 2009 Society of Professional Obituary Writers Convention instead of Josh Korr, a Publish2 editor.

Online reservations now available for SPOW Convention

Picking up the telephone is no longer the only way to reserve a room at the 2009 Society of Professional Obituary Writers Convention hotel.

Residence Inn has provided a direct link for us, which includes the code for the SPOW rate, or as the hotel calls it the "Pro Obituary Writers" rate.

Everything you need to know is on our Web site's Convention page. The hotel stuff is near the bottom of the page.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Obituary channel approved in Canada

CRTC approves obituary channel
Quebec entrepreneur seeks backing to bring death notices and tributes to the small screen

From Wednesday's Globe and Mail
March 11, 2009 at 1:00 AM EDT

Gérald Dominique is hoping there's room on Canadian airwaves for yet another specialty channel – one that would be all death and illness, all the time.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has for the first time approved an application to move forward with a channel dedicated to paid obituaries and notices of illness.

The French-language channel, which would air in Quebec, amounts to a TV version of the paid death notice pages in newspapers, giving families the chance to have sound, music, photos, video, text and other testimonials broadcast about their loved ones.

Mr. Dominique, 44, the Quebec entrepreneur behind the plan, first applied for the channel last summer and hopes to title it Je me souviens, or “I remember.” The phrase is also the official Quebec motto.

“The goal of this channel is to tell stories,” Mr. Dominique said. “How many stories are lost all over the world each year? Great stories about people's lives. Those are the stories we hope to tell.”

Mr. Dominique believes some 56,000 Quebeckers die each year. With baby boomers aging, he thinks that death – and the services that go with it – is something of an industry on the rise, inadequately served by existing tribute and memorial services.

“I felt the need to do more,” he said.

He said the TV death notices will cost about the same as they do in newspapers, and hopes one day to extend the service in English to the rest of Canada. The concept may also include longer-form obituaries – features done on public figures and aired at no charge to their families – as well as the paid classifieds.

Although offering the chance for multimedia memorials, Mr. Dominique anticipates the majority of notices will be text only, displayed on screen and read aloud.

“The service would be dedicated to the broadcast of obituary notices, notices of hospitalization and messages of thanks and prayers, mainly in alphanumeric format, that would be read on air,” the CRTC approval notice reads.

After being granted CRTC approval on Feb. 26, Mr. Dominique now hopes to find a financial backer, and sign a deal with a cable distributor before a launch.

“I would need some help,” Mr. Dominique said. “But if the planets align, I should be on the air in July.”

In addition to paid notices, Mr. Dominique got CRTC permission to run six minutes of national advertising in each hour, although he'd asked to run local and regional ads.

The concept of a 24-hour channel devoted to death and illness notices first came from Europe. Etos TV launched last year in Germany, offering TV and Web-based death notice services, and was billed as the first station of its kind.

According to European media, it cost about the equivalent of about $16-million to launch, backed by a group of German funeral directors.

But Canada's directors have no part in Mr. Dominique's initiative. Suzanne Scott, executive director of the Funeral Service Association of Canada, said her group has discussed backing a single website devoted to online memorials – of which dozens operate independently – but never a TV station.

“It's going to be interesting to see whether it does have legs, because I don't foresee people sitting there everyday and watching,” Ms. Scott said. “But to have it on television, are you going to say: ‘Watch Channel 247 at 4:57 p.m.?' I don't know.

“I'm not sure it's something people in Canada are going to jump on, but I could be completely wrong.”

With a report from The Canadian Press

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Convention speakers, Registration form, Hotel reservations

We've got information for you about speakers, registration and hotel reservations for the 2009 Society of Professional Obituary Writers (SPOW) Convention at the Residence Inn Charlotte Uptown, 404 S. Mint St., Charlotte, N.C., April 23-25, 2009.

Let's mention the hotel reservations first, as the deadline for making them at a discounted rate is March 23.

The hotel is holding a block of suites for SPOW for Thursday through Saturday, April 23-25, 2009. All suites have such features as fully equipped kitchens and high-speed Internet access.

Studio and one-bedroom suites have one queen-sized bed with a single sleeper sofa. Two Bedroom Suites have one queen-sized bed in each bedroom and a single sleeper sofa.

Special SPOW Convention rates are $109 per night for studio and one-bedroom suites; $149 per night for a two-bedroom suite. Rates quoted include complimentary breakfast, but do not include tax. Hotel tax is 15.25%, parking is $10.00 and both are subject to change.

Guests are responsible for making and paying for their own rooms. Write to if you'd like to share a suite and split the cost with another convention goer.

Reservations must be made by phone. Convention attendees should call 1-888-511-5087 and request a room with the Society of Professional Obituary Writers no later than March 23, 2009. All major credit cards are accepted.

Convention sessions will be held at the hotel. Room rates do not include convention registration.

For convention registration go to our Registration page at:

The event starts with a Thursday evening get-together at Mert's Heart and Soul Restaurant. Meet at the hotel lobby between 5 and 6 p.m. for shuttle to Mert's for dinner at 6:30 p.m.

Professional development sessions are set for Friday and Saturday. On Saturday, the 2009 SPOW Awards for obituary writing will be presented and the convention should end by 3 p.m.

Cheryl Carpenter, managing editor of The Charlotte Observer and a Poynter Institute writing-coach lecturer, will be our keynote speaker.

Matt Comer, editor for Q-notes Online, the Carolinas multimedia LGBT news source, will address handling online obits and will participate in a roundtable discussion on diversity.

Scott Karp, CEO of Publish2, will speak about link journalism. Register for a free Publish2 account at Register by March 31, 2009, and learn how to become eligible for valuable prizes. For sweepstakes details, go to: .

Tim Bullamore, a freelance obituary writer for such publications as The Daily Telegraph of London, will discuss his obits-related doctoral work at Cardiff University.

Gerry Hostetler, our local host, will talk about how her career evolved from obits clerk to obits columnist for The Charlotte Observer.

More information is available at the SPOW Web site - Additional details will be posted there and here on the Obituary Forum blog - - as they become available.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Paul Harvey and "the rest of the story."

Obituaries for Paul Harvey, the legendary seemingly immortal radio reporter/commentator who died Feb. 28, 2009, at age 90, were published and broadcast across the United States and likely around the world.

Radio and television obits featured audio of Harvey's distinctive and familiar voice giving his signature sign on - "Good morning, America. This is Paul Harvey. Stand by for news."

They also offered Harvey's "jump" to Page 2 of his stories - "And now the rest of the story" - and his sign off - "This is Paul Harvey. Good day."

But countless newspapers with Internet presences missed the opportunity to make their online versions of Harvey's obituary more meaningful to the public.

Because of the marvelous means of multimedia available to them, they can no longer forgive themselves for not providing online readers with samples of audio and/or video of people like Harvey.

Kudos to the New York Times for posting links to easily accessible audio (WGN Radio) and video (YouTube) of Harvey delivering news stories his way with facts followed by his point of view.

And kudos to WGN for a Web page full of some of Harvey's most poignant reports and familiar phrases, as well as excellent radio obituaries by Doug Limerick and Gil Gross, comments from colleagues and listeners and much more.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

2009 SPOW Awards and Convention update

For the latest on the 2009 Society of Professional Obituary Writers Awards, visit the organization's Awards page.

The tentative schedule for the 2009 Society of Professional Obituary Writers Convention, which will be held in Charlotte, N.C., April 23-25, will be announced during the first two weeks of March.

Please email program proposals, suggestions for speakers and topics, and questions to

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Test your Obit IQ to win an iPod Touch

Obit Magazine is offering an iPod prize to entice you to Test Your Obit IQ.

Each Thursday this month (Feb. 2009), participants can answer a list of multiple choice questions that test your knowledge of stories that appeared in Obit.

You can't backtrack. You have to answer the questions before the new ones appear on the following Thursday.

But you can still participate even if you enter late. The more weekly contests you enter, the better your chances of winning.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Eulogy with a Valentine's Day flavor

Spencer Michlin shares Janet Foote's Unusual and Poignant Eulogy for her husband, Jerry.

It was featured on the FrontBurner blog of Dallas, Texas, on Feb. 8, 2009.

Janet Foote managed to use genetics to tell a love story.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Not-dead fisherman writes his own obit

Pam Vetter shares this story - "Gutted! The fisherman caught faking his death" - which ran in the Feb. 6, 2009, edition of The Independent of London.

The professional fisherman apparently tried to fake his own death to avoid paying fines for having lied to the British government about the number of fish he caught.

I guess that's like not paying your income tax.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Good ways of reporting bad news

The News and Observer lets readers in on the secret of advanced obituaries at:

The column, by Ted Vaden, also praises the "word paintings" found in the obituaries for lesser lights of his acquaintance.

tom hawthorn

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Love the title: The brilliant minds of obit grinds

Check out Heather Cox's story about obit writers in the January 2009 edition of King's Journalism Review: "The brilliant minds of obit grinds."

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Island fantasy dramas/Rule of Three?

Ricardo Mantalban and Patrick McGoohan exit on the same day. Can Tina Louise be next?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Society of Professional Obituary Writers' 2009 Contest and Convention

Don't forget. The deadline for entering your best obituaries that were published in 2008 in the obit-writing contest for the 2009 Society of Professional Obituary Writers Awards is Monday, Feb. 9, 2009.

Awards will be presented during the 2009 SPOW Convention, to be held April 23-25, 2009, in Charlotte, N.C.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The art of the obituary

"The Leonard Lopate Show" recently examined the art of writing obituaries and why so many people take pleasure in reading them. Special guests were Anne Wroe, co-editor of The Economist's "Book of Obituaries," and Marilyn Johnson, author of "The Dead Beat." Check it out: