Saturday, December 11, 2010
Along with the link, Janice implores the Washington Post: "Please don't barge into my Facebook page after I die and annotate my posts (as) you did this poor woman's: http://wapo.st/keepout. The result may be moving, but the technique is morally creepy."
Thursday, December 09, 2010
New Delhi, Dec. 8 -- Maulana Marghuburrahman, Rector of Darul Uloom Deoband, died today at Bijnor in Uttar Pradesh after a prolonged illness. He was 96.
Friday, December 03, 2010
This time, you've got more time to dust off and enter your best work of 2010, as we won't be presenting the awards until our conference in St. Petersburg, Fla., May 12-14, 2011. We'll have an awards luncheon and our professional development sessions at Poynter Institute for Media Studies.
The few details we have about the conference have been posted on our conference/convention page.
Our thanks to Cailin Brown, assistant professor of communications at The College of St. Rose in Albany, N.Y., for agreeing to coordinate our awards contest again, and to Andrew Meacham of the St. Petersburg Times for acting as the local host for our conference.
Monday, November 29, 2010
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Though the rest of the family placed death notice is pretty standard,
you can read about this 90-year-old "red-haired spitfire" at
The tail of the death notice is the YouTube link to Bee singing "Sentimental Journey"
The obit ran in the Tallahassee Democrat on Nov. 21, 2010.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Dumbledore friend Elphias Doge wrote an obit for the Hogwarts headmaster that was more of a tribute than a straightforward news obit. It was commentary, written from the perspective of an admirer.
In the obit, Doge didn't reveal any secrets that would make Dumbledore or his family seem less than saintly.
At the wedding reception (Bill Weasley marries Fleur Delacour, in case you didn't know), Ron Weasley’s nasty Auntie Muriel says to Doge, "I noticed how you skated over the sticky patches in that obituary of yours."
Doge replies, "I assure you I was writing from the heart."
Sounds familiar, even in the Muggle world.
Thursday, November 04, 2010
The video is also in a post right below this one.
The Sunday Morning crew, talented producer Steve Glauber and noted interviewer Jeff Greenfield shadowed Society of Professional Obituary Writers at our 2010 conference in Philadelphia for the piece. They did an excellent job of editing our riveting interviews and adding New York Times interviews and visuals.
None of this would have come about were it not for the multi-year, tireless efforts of SPOW founder (though she resists being identified as such) Alana Baranick.
Thanks to all for so artfully presenting our craft and professional society to the world.
Monday, November 01, 2010
They were preparing a segment on obituaries for the Sunday morning TV magazine show.
They let us know several weeks later that they also would be interviewing folks at the New York Times about "Profiles 9/11/01," the compilation of mini-obits the paper ran on victims of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center for the segment.
The finished product, which finally aired as part of show's Halloween presentation of Oct. 31, 2010, focused on "everyman" obits, done by such writers as Jim Nicholson (pictured above left) for the Philadelphia Daily News and Kay Powell (pictured right) for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Among the highlights was the life-and-death philosophy of Jade Walker (pictured below), creator of the Blog of Death:
"Obits only have one line that deals with death. The rest of the story is about the amazing lives that people lead."
"Life is short. You have to make the most of it. I don't wait until the last moment to tell someone I love them. I don't wait to take that trip I've always wanted to take."
Click here to read the transcript.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
A couple of wrong takes on obit writers -- the protagonist is one -- don't mar this riveting mystery. Though, they do promote a stereotype beginning with author Todd Ritter's book jacket bio.
Ritter, pictured here and a New Jersey Star-Ledger reporter, tells us he has "interviewed celebrities, covered police standoffs, and even written obituaries."
Main character Henry Goll, Perry Hollow [PA] Gazette obit writer predictably referred to in the newsroom as Henry Ghoul, is asked, "Do you ever miss being a reporter?"
Goll's response, "I'm an obituary writer. Not a reporter."
Get past a few professional gaffs and get engrossed in this complex mystery where everyone is a believable suspect in small town Perry Hollow's first murder.
Ritter weaves an engaging story with enough of the macabre to have readers wondering if he experienced it himself to add such riveting detail. Was he buried alive? Were his lips sewn together? Has he floated in a pine coffin in a lake? Sniffed formaldehyde?
As journalists and obit writers, we've all had our share of bizarro -- the death notice faxed to obits just hours before the person commits suicide . . . or is murdered. But, would we let our jobs propel us into endangering our own lives?
Just released by Minotaur Books, "Death Notice" is a standout first novel. Read other reviews online and on Ritter's Web page: http://www.toddritteronline.com/. For this review, we wanted to examine how Ritter treats his obit writer. Goll is believable.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Click here to read about the mime's life, military service and simultaneous battles with cancer and the government.
I love the way Michael ended the piece:
In his death notice Sunday in the Post-Dispatch, his family remembered him with the line: "A mime is a terrible thing to waste."
Thursday, October 14, 2010
Jeff Greenfield, producer Steve Glauber and a CBS News crew spent the first day of the Society of Professional Obituary Writers (SPOW) convention at the Philadelphia Inquirer in April 2010 to gather information, interview some SPOW members and record conference happenings for a CBS Sunday Morning segment.
Since that time, the CBS folks have conducted more research and more interviews on the subject of obits for the segment. Over the summer, CBS Sunday Morning has focused on covering mostly breaking news stories and rerunning previously aired segments.
Today we were told that the obits segment is scheduled to air on Oct. 31, 2010. Yep! Halloween! Seems kind of appropriate with tombstones and all that jazz, dontcha think?
Set your DVRs to record the show so you don't miss it. But bear in mind that the Halloween obits segment might be bumped and rescheduled for a later date.
Tuesday, October 05, 2010
Saturday, October 02, 2010
Both men are top winners of Society of Professional Obituary Writers Awards.
Thought you might like to associate their faces with their names.
Here's a photo of Tom from his own blog, http://tomhawthorn.blogspot.com/.
Cute guys, eh?
Friday, October 01, 2010
Hit-and-run victim was quiet and dependable, co-workers say
In Print: Wednesday, September 29, 2010
ST. PETERSBURG — About 11 p.m. Sept. 12, a car struck Neil Alan Smith and threw him off his bicycle on Fourth Street N. The car didn't stop.
Mr. Smith, who was pedaling home from his job as a dishwasher at the Crab Shack, struck his head on a light post.
He was taken to Bayfront Medical Center. He died there six days later. He was 48.
Police have not located the hit-and-run driver.
Shortly after the St. Petersburg Times announced Mr. Smith's death on its website, a reader posted a comment stating the following: A man who is working as a dishwasher at the Crab Shack at the age of 48 is surely better off dead.
Web editors removed the comment, deeming it an offensive and insensitive insult to a dead man's friends and family. Though hardly unusual — check out the comments beneath stories about any recent tragedy — this one spurred the Times to make Mr. Smith the subject of this story, as a reminder that every life matters.
This much is certain about Mr. Smith: A number of people miss him.
He had a small but loyal network of co-workers and friends who are planning soon to celebrate his life.
They all describe Mr. Smith as steady and dependable. He rode his bicycle nearly 4 miles each way from the Hollywood Trailer Park on Fourth Street N to the Crab Shack on Gandy Boulevard, where he had worked for the past 10 years. In a business known for turnover, that is considered a long time.
"I'll probably go through another 10 people to find somebody like him," said Tyrone Dayhoff, 53, the Crab Shack's manager.
He started out busing tables and was very fast, but preferred the shelter of his dishwashing station in the back of the kitchen. He could listen to sports talk radio there.
Amid the steam and the withering heat of the dishwashing machine, he didn't have to make small talk. He liked to sit out back on cigarette breaks, in a plastic chair with his back to the walk-in freezer and facing a wooden fence and beyond it, the Gandy Bridge. Or he rode his bicycle to a nearby RaceTrac station to refill his giant soda cup.
He restocked the shelves with the pots, pans and dishes he had washed, hosed down the rubber mats and swept and mopped the floors. Mr. Smith earned $7.25 an hour, Florida's minimum wage.
Jeff Lackey, who lives across the street from Mr. Smith's address at Hollywood Park, recalled one of the rare conversations Mr. Smith initiated.
"I was coming back from the Dumpster and he invited me over," said Lackey, 53. "He said, 'Jeff, I've worked at Crab Shack for 10 years. I never got a raise or a Christmas bonus. I never even got a card.' "
At the end of his shift — the palms of his hands wrinkled and white — he grabbed two Budweisers from the bar, his unofficial but openly acknowledged gratuity, and pedaled home.
Mr. Smith did not talk much about his past, friends and co-workers said. Both his parents are deceased. Police list Debra Coito of Haverhill, Mass., as his sister. Friends say she was a twin, but that he almost never mentioned her. Records show a Debra Coito in Massachusetts with the same birth date as Mr. Smith's. She could not be reached for comment for this story.
"He set his boundaries," said Peggy Rogers, 56, his roommate of six years. "He didn't pry into your business, so you just kind of respected that and you didn't do that to him."
He told friends he had been married and divorced, had managed a gas station in New Hampshire before moving to Florida in 1999. He got a concession stand job at Derby Lane, then started working at the Crab Shack.
He lived in a mobile home near the restaurant and paid rent to the owner, Bonnie Schaeffer-Mott. Once, when she feared the power company would shut off the electricity, she asked Mr. Smith for help.
He gave her more than what she had asked to borrow and insisted she take it. "I'll never forget that," said Schaeffer-Mott, 51.
Mr. Smith bought his own trailer at the Snug Harbor Mobile Home Park, but home ownership didn't last long. A developer bought the park in 2006, forcing residents out. Mr. Smith and Rogers, then a Crab Shack waiter, moved to two other mobile home parks before settling at Hollywood Park.
He rarely strayed from work or home. On days off he drank a few Budweisers and watched sports, especially his beloved Red Sox, Celtics and Patriots. Rogers wouldn't let him smoke inside, so he sat on the porch with a Marlboro and headphones listening to Aerosmith or Celine Dion.
"Oh, my gaaahhd, she's the best sinnga on the plaaaahhnet," he would say in his New England accent.
He broke no laws, other than a 2007 open-container violation.
Every year, Rogers put up a small artificial Christmas tree and decorated it. "I kind of forced him" to celebrate holidays, Rogers said. She gave him a mountain bike after his was stolen, and bought extra reflectors for his birthday. Because it was important not to wait, she gave him the reflectors Sept. 10, before his birthday.
Two days later, Mr. Smith had nearly finished the bike ride home from work and was just a block from the mobile home park when a car hit his bicycle from the rear in the 7300 block of Fourth Street N. Witnesses reported it was a white or light-colored midsized sedan — possibly a Ford Taurus or Mercury Sable. Police said that Mr. Smith was following bicycle safety recommendations such as wearing light-colored clothing, using reflectors and riding in the bicycle lane.
His head struck a metal light pole. He never regained consciousness.
After examining his wallet, police went to the Crab Shack first, then to Rogers' mobile home. At 11:30 p.m., they knocked on her door.
For six days, Mr. Smith lay unresponsive in Bayfront Medical Center. Rogers brought in a CD player and played Celine Dion.
Mr. Smith died Sept. 18, three days before his 49th birthday.
Dayhoff, his boss at Crab Shack, read the story on the Times website and found himself outraged by unsympathetic comments posted by some readers.
"I just can't get over some of those people reacting the way they did," he said. "This guy was a human being. He might not have meant something to somebody else, but he was like family to us. He meant something to us."
On Sept. 21, Mr. Smith's birthday, Rogers drank one of the two beers he had left in the refrigerator and talked on the phone to Schaeffer-Mott.
Once Mr. Smith's body is cremated, Schaeffer-Mott wants to take his remains to Boston, then New Hampshire. Maybe she will spread a pinch outside the Boston Garden and Fenway Park, where the Celtics and Red Sox play.
Then she hopes to go to New Hampshire and put the rest of his remains at his parents' graves — if she can find them.
She will call Rogers, who will then drink the remaining beer in the refrigerator.
They will toast the memory of a solitary man who knew his likes and lived within his means, a man who could be counted upon.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friday, September 10, 2010
Each weekday from Monday, Sept. 13, 2010, through Monday, Oct. 11, 2010, Todd Ritter, author of the soon-to-be-released mystery titled "Death Notice," will post a brief obituary of some unnamed famous person.
Game players will be asked to guess the identity of the person identified in the obit.
The way the contest description is worded, it's unclear to me whether all of the mystery obits are for historic figures or at least for the already dead.
Real prizes are involved in this contest: a basket of mystery books courtesy of St. Martin's Minotaur and an autographed copy of Todd Ritter's "Death Notice," which will be released Oct. 12, 2010. (Sorry. No cash.)
Visit Ritter's Mystery Obit Contest page for details.
Monday, July 19, 2010
Friday, July 02, 2010
Eva L. Grover, 81, stepped into eternity peacefully, Wednesday, June 30, 2010, at West View Manor in Wooster, after a valiant fight with the kind of things that just make our bodies quit on us when we get on in years.
Thursday, July 01, 2010
"She made kreplach to die for, and then she died."
Middle-aged lady having lunch with friends, overheard at Zuni by Norman Vogel
Saturday, June 12, 2010
A number of us met Heather a couple of years back at the obituary-writers conference at the Oregonian in Portland. Heather writes the obits for every person who dies in Haines. Amazing.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
Wednesday, June 09, 2010
Friday, June 04, 2010
On the Endangered Species List, Part 6, Conclusion of Jim Nicholson's presentation to he Society of Professional Obituary Writers, April 24, 2010
"Great Love Stories That Would Not Die" -- Part 5 of Jim Nicholson's presentation at 2010 Society of Professional Obituary Writers Convention
One more segment to go. Watch for it Saturday, June 5, 2010.
Thursday, June 03, 2010
Wednesday, June 02, 2010
Tuesday, June 01, 2010
Jim Nicholson's speech to Society of Professional Obituary Writers, April 24, 2010 - Part 2 - The Desert
Here's Part 2 of Jim Nicholson's speech, which was graciously recorded by Jim's brother at the SPOW Convention at The Philadelphia Inquirer on April 24, 2010.
Monday, May 31, 2010
Saturday, May 29, 2010
As usual, Adam chose his words carefully and condensed lots of information into one sentence that is easy to read and grammatically correct.
The cancer part reminded me of copy editors at the Cleveland Plain Dealer informing me, "People are not diagnosed with cancer. The cancer is diagnosed."
That pronouncement and recommended ways to express that a medical professional has determined that a person has cancer or some other life-threatening condition have resulted in my rarely using any form of the word "diagnose" in obits. I'm so certain I'll mess it up.
I would appreciate knowing how other obit writers handle diagnoses.
Saturday, May 08, 2010
Experienced reporter needed to interview people who are at the end of lives about their experiences and insights. We pay per interview; if our edited version of your interview is used in our book, you will receive a byline for the chapter as well. Must have strong interviewing background and the ability to record interviews and submit mp3 or equivalent file for editing. You will work with doctors, nursing homes, hospices and your own network to identify subjects, set appointments, conduct interviews and send us the audio file. We will provide sample interviews and training, but the key to success will be your own compassion and talent as a reporter. Flexible hours based on availability of you and your subjects.
Every day, people receive terminal diagnoses; and every day, people die and their stories are lost forever. You will help those stories live on, creating a legacy for those whose knowledge and insights will otherwise disappear.
FMI: click here
Friday, May 07, 2010
My thoughts on why he was important are identical to the reasons I think baseball and radio--and, especially, baseball on radio--are important.
Football and basketball might as well have been created for television right down to the shapes of the playing surfaces.
Basketball moves so fast that it’s difficult to describe fully as its happening. Radio announcers barely have time to do more than follow the ball, and in their breathless efforts to do that, have no chance to discuss the strategy of each fluid move and, certainly, no ability to discuss the beauty of the moves themselves.
Football works a little better on radio, but, even though the stop and start nature of the game allows the announcers to discuss strategy, it’s just so much more exciting to see the plays as they unfold.
But for me, if you can’t be at the ballpark, it’s better to listen to baseball on the radio. The game is so much bigger on the screen of your imagination than in HD, and it’s the announcers who make it so.
To this day, you can walk down a street in the Bronx and follow a Yankees game from radios on stoops and near windows without missing a play. Kids across the country still stay up past bedtime surreptitiously listening to their favorite team and keeping a box score by flashlight. A solitary car trip at night is made better by the calm and excited voices of men riding the ionosphere skip from a thousand miles away, describing the action on a diamond you’ll never see in life, a battle between two teams you don’t even care about--except on that one night.
Much has been overblown about baseball’s role as a part of our national fabric, but I say that—even beyond the game itself--baseball on the radio has, for generations, brought together the city and the farm, the forest and the harbor. Each game is its own story and voices like Ernie Harwell, Vin Scully, Red Barber, Mel Allen, and Harry Caray have been among America’s finest storytellers.
And let’s throw in Jack Graney of the Indians (this is more than being polite—when I was a kid in the early 50’s, my Dallas Eagles were a farm team of the Indians, and for many summers I’d listen to Graney describe the exploits of Avila, Boudreau, Doby, Feller and Easter.) Across America, this experience, varied only by the heroes involved, is part of who a great many of us are.
As for Harwell himself, James Moore describes his voice and impact better than I ever could:
“He was resonant and reassuring without being intrusive. Listeners heard confidence and kindliness as a subtext to his descriptions of baseball games. We thought we knew Mr. Harwell but he definitely knew us. Harwell understood that there was an almost sacred connection between fans and their teams and he always gave us reason to believe in happy outcomes…
“Mostly though, the Tiger’s legendary broadcaster sounded like summer.”
Wednesday, May 05, 2010
It was published on the Huffington Post today, May 5, 2010.
Moore writes of Harwell: He spoke the story of America in the metaphor of baseball. Learn to lose with grace and win with humility and never stop trying.
A beautifully crafted tribute, definitely worth reading.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
We feel it's important to distinguish between the two honors. That's why we did not post the People's Picks results with the official SPOW Award winners. It's not like we forgot or anything. (That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.)
Winners of the People's Picks poll are as follows:
Best body of work (long-form) by one writer, based on exactly five obits, published in 2009 in a print or online news publication. (Long-form obits have 800 words or more.): Laurence Arnold, Bloomberg News.
Best body of work (short-form) by one writer, based on exactly five obits, published in 2009 in a print or online news publication: Maureen O'Donnell, Chicago Sun-Times.
Best long-form obituary about a well-known regional figure: Ron Csillag, Globe and Mail, "Clarence Peterson."
Best short-form obituary about a well-known regional figure: Evin Demirel, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, "Albert Zoppe."
Best long-form obituary about an Average Joe: Ron Hayes, The Coastal Star, "Bill Dunn."
Best short-form obituary about an Average Joe: Maureen O'Donnell, Chicago Sun-Times, "Danny Stanton."
Best obituary that goes beyond summing up a life: Maureen O'Donnell, Chicago Sun-Times, "Danny Stanton."
Best tribute, column, memoir or retrospective in print or online: Josh Farley, Kitsap Sun, "Robert and Darlene Moser."
Outstanding radio obituary: Natasha Gruneberg of BBC Radio for her obituary for Walter Cronkite.
Complete list of SPOW winners is posted on the awards page of the SPOW website.
Sunday, April 25, 2010
by Marilyn Johnson
Please do not tell her what to do, or presume to speak for her.
I'm serious. Do not impugn her sex, her country, her region, or her profession, which, by the way, is journalist, not obit writer.
She's the most fun person you could ever hope to hang with at a conference in a far flung city, but do not cross her and do not ignore her, and please go back and read her obituaries, which ran for more than a dozen years, creating a community that bridged the sexes, races, and regions and that included both the living and the dead. Steel and fire, humor and heart, and a sly subversive streak. Yes indeed.
When Eliza Bazemore died at either 114 or 115, our honored writer wrote several grafs on the reason her age was disputed and discussed other supercentenarians (as well as a destroyed bible)…but after saluting Ms. Bazemore in fitting fashion, the obit ends with the real reason her age was a mystery: Mrs. Bazemore wouldn't discuss the matter, and always said, "A woman who would tell her age would tell everything."
Our honored writer sent off a teacher of preachers-- a double down holy man, right?-- and without blinking, quoted his associate: "Mance was a hell of a teacher."
And this from the obit of Charlotte Walker, a late-blooming actress. Mrs. Walker's favorite role was that of a woman sitting on a porch in "Murder in Mississippi." "She is asked by the Blair Underwood character if she and her husband would go vote. 'We'll be free when we die,' was her line. In real life, she never missed a chance to vote and had participated in the civil rights movement. In September 2004, she shared her experiences with the massive oral history project, 'Voices of Civil Rights.'"
And here is the part that signifies our honoree, Kay Powell's, special genius. These accomplishments were wonderful, but you don't get an x-ray of our subject's heart until you get this detail: Mrs. Walker was instrumental in having the church's gospel choir on the same film's sound track. Mrs. Walker was fine and she was accomplished, and she took her people with her.
Kay Powell got what people did, but she really got what the women did -- how 99 year old Frances Rossman fought for 10 years to get her neighbor's junk vehicles removed, or how the docent talked her husband into colonial costume, complete with pantihose, and turned him into a candle dipper. Our writer recorded things that wouldn't have been recorded by anyone else, certainly not by her brother journalists, and she filled the pages of a major newspaper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, with people we still don't see enough of in newspapers-- more than anyone, Kay Powell has been responsible for fighting the historic sexual imbalance on the obit page. Kay has also helped create and nourish a community of obit writers and obituary lovers that is generous enough to embrace all comers, including my mother, who is a great fan of her martini earrings-- and Kay's community transcends all differences. She has helped give obituary writing a legitimate and respected place in journalism, and she has made us all proud….she is fine and she's accomplished and she takes her people -- that's us -- with her.
And for this, we honor and love her.
Tribute to Jim Nicholson
by Marilyn Johnson
Thomas "Mooseneck" Robinson.
Richard "Groove" Holmes.
Francis P. "Shaky" Kane, Truck Driver.
And Sister Clem, "who didn't fit the regular nun bill" and "could dispatch a hoagie with ease."
I can re-read their stories a hundred times and never tire of them, these characters who moved out of Philly (and their earthly existence) in the Eighties and Nineties-- my dear dead friends, introduced, summed up, and made unforgettable by Jim Nicholson. He cherished their quirks and measured their immeasurable contributions and laced their portraits with both plain talk and Biblical cadence. (He could also wiggle out of some pretty tight corners.) But most of all he saw. He saw his subjects in all their beautiful and bulbous glory. They had been invisible for so long in the pages of the big city papers, except as victims or perps. Certainly no one outside their neighborhood had ever celebrated them for being "the woman holding up the scenery" or the man with "the patience of a clam." He saw them for who they were. "'I'm not going to tell you a lie. Moose was a drinker.'"
Jim Nicholson gave us a portrait of the blue-collar city, the immigrant city, the black and white city, the individual troops who kept the city working. He buried newsmen with grace and a shrewd eye, like William J. Storm, "Perhaps the greatest 'house-end' reporter who ever worked in Philadelphia." Nicholson explained why knocking on doors after a tragedy to get quotes or material was an important job and a lost art and why Storm was its best practitioner-- he respected his subjects; he was compassionate.
When it came time for Jim to send off a fellow obit writer, he'd make sure there was some news in there to make it truly memorable. Remembering his friend Burr Van Atta, Jr., the obit writer for the rival Inquirer, Jim confessed that he and Burr used to shuffle their pages to make sure every family in Philly who wanted an obit got one. Shocking? Yes, but that compassionate detail guaranteed we'd remember the man.
The same can be said for Nicholson. Nancy Hass, the first of many people who insisted I talk to Jim, used to sit behind him at the Daily News where, for 19 years, he interviewed survivors in an effort to bring their loved ones to life in a portrait.
According to Nancy, "I would hear him speak to families, the regular folk he specialized in writing about, always using that courtly southern-fried voice. Didn't matter who they were, how poor, how weird. One day he was speaking to a woman whose uncle had died. They lived in a particularly lowbrow part of north Philly. All I could hear was his side of the conversation, but that was all I needed.
"'So everyone called him Mooseneck? Hmmm, that's sure an interesting nickname.
"'Okay ma'am, so what exactly did Mooseneck do, I mean, for a living?
"'Oh, so he just laid on the couch all day?'"
"Long pause. Nicholson's head started to bob, and he chuckled long and low. I wondered what he would say to her, what was there to say?
"'Well, you know I had an uncle like that, ma'am.'"
What made him laugh? How did she drink her coffee? How did he keep the shoes in his closet? These were ways to get at the heavier issues about life and death: What did he care about? Who did she love? And how did they find their time on earth? But they were also little brushes he used to add color and shade his portraits. It shouldn't surprise you that he is an elegant painter, a wonderful caretaker, and a loyal and dear friend. Knowing how he works, his laser attention, wholehearted commitment to the subject at hand, that courtly southern fried style-- you don't think he was going to let me get away with just a few stories, do you? No, he hounded me until I got it. I believe it in some quarters, is known as soul.
Jim, in those 19 years, you changed the faces that appeared on the obits page, and you changed our idea of what constitutes the well-lived life. You made your city and your country and the news business proud. And look at all these professionals cheering you, who know just what that took.
Friday, April 23, 2010
Marilyn Johnson, author of “The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and The Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries,” made a surprise appearance at the 2010 Society of Professional Obituary Writers (SPOW) Convention Friday, April 23, 2010, to praise keynote speaker Jim Nicholson, retired Daily News obit writer, and announce that Kay Powell, former Atlanta Journal-Constitution obits editor, is the recipient of the SPOW Lifetime Achievement Award for 2010.
Jim, who was the first recipient of the honor, presented the award to Kay, who was uncharacteristically speechless.
Receiving top honors in the Body of Work category are Andrew Meacham of the St. Petersburg Times for long-form obits (over 800 words) and Evin Demirel, former Arkansas Democrat-Gazette obit writer, for short-form obits (under 800 words). Both men were present to accept their awards.
Andrew also won the award for the Best obituary that goes beyond summing up a life for his nontraditional obit for “Hope Witsell,” a 13-year-old girl who took her own life.
Tom Hawthorn won the SPOW Award for Best long-form obit about a well-known figure with his obit for "Frank Williams", which was published in the Globe and Mail of Canada.
Maureen O'Donnell of the Chicago Sun-Times won the SPOW Award for Best short-form obit about a well-known figure, “L. Scott Deatherage".
Winner of the Best long-form obit about an Average Joe is Ron Hayes, a freelance writer who penned the obit for “Bill Dunn” for The Coastal Star, Ocean Ridge, Fla.
The SPOW Award for short-form obit about an Average Joe went to Sally Downey of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Sally says there was nothing average about her subject, "Hayward Ford," a master gardener.
Joan Harvey won the SPOW Award for Best tribute, column, memoir or retrospective for her Oregonian Op-Ed piece on teacher "George Katagiri.”
Natasha Gruneberg won the award for Outstanding Radio Obituary for the obit she put together on “Sir Clement Freud” for BBC Radio.
Monday, March 29, 2010
The work of the top five finalists from each juried category has been posted for the "People's Picks" poll at http://www.obitwriters.org/contest.html. The public is invited to read the unidentified finalists' work and vote for their favorites.
However, the online poll will have no effect on the selection of official SPOW Award winners. The People's Picks poll is just for fun.
Official SPOW Awards will be presented and the results of the online poll will be announced during an awards luncheon on Friday, April 23, 2010, at the Philadelphia Inquirer during the SPOW Convention.
For convention registration, go to http://obitwriters2010.eventbrite.com/.
The discount on the already inexpensive registration fees may end then, but registration will continue after that. Same-day registration will also be available.
To register and/or to pay SPOW membership dues, go to
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Here's the link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2010/mar/23/tom-hobbs-obituary
Monday, March 22, 2010
Here's the E&P link:
And here's the link for convention registration:
Saturday, March 13, 2010
Correction: March 12, 2010
An obituary on Wednesday about Willie Davis, who succeeded Duke Snider as the Los Angeles Dodgers’ center fielder, erroneously credited Davis with franchise records in several categories. His career totals in those categories were records for the Los Angeles Dodgers only, not for the Dodger franchise, which was originally located in Brooklyn. Zack Wheat, not Davis, holds the franchise records for hits, at-bats, triples and total bases; Pee Wee Reese holds the record for runs; Duke Snider holds the record for extra-base hits. The obituary also incorrectly described one of Davis’s World Series accomplishments. He stole three bases in one game in the 1965 Series, not three bases in one inning.
Thursday, March 04, 2010
As a reference librarian at the University of South Carolina Aiken, he made outstanding contributions to his academic and civic communities, all detailed in his curriculum vitae: http://library.usca.edu/uploads/KDDK/HobbsThomasCV.pdf.
“The man was smart, accurate and terrifically helpful, a librarian to the core,” said Marilyn Johnson, author of “This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All” and “The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries.” “When I told him I was writing about obituaries, he made sure that I knew about The Gentleman's Magazine and offered to help any way he could.”
Nigel Starck, a University of South Australia educator, remembers the help Tom gave him while he was conducting research in the United States for his book, “Life After Death.”
“I do have some notably warm feelings about Tommy – especially as he went to the Aiken bus stop at 12:30 a.m. to meet me off the Greyhound in 2002,” Starck said. (See more from Starck in the comments that follow this obituary.)
Thomas Cooper Hobbs, 61, died in his sleep of a heart attack at 11 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010, according to the Aiken County (S.C.) coroner. His body was discovered the next day by concerned friends from the university, who went to his home in North Augusta, S.C., to check on him after he hadn’t shown up for work.
Tom’s funeral will be held Saturday, March 6, 2010, beginning with visitation at 11 a.m. and followed by services at noon, at the Lane Funeral Home (Coulter Chapel), 601 Ashland Terrace, Chattanooga, Tenn.
A memorial service will be incorporated into the Palmetto Friends Gathering, which begins at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, March 7, 2010, at the Lexington YMCA, 401 YMCA Road, Lexington, S.C.
Burial will take place at noon Monday, March 9, 2010, when Tom’s body will be laid to rest next to his father, Noble Hobbs, at the Davidson Memorial Gardens, U.S. 23, Ivel, Ky.
Tom, the only child of Noble and Kathryn Hobbs, was born Jan. 6, 1949, in Chattanooga. Kathryn had worked at the American Lava plant in Chattanooga. Noble, who represented coal mining firms, worked in Kentucky.
Kathryn was around 39 years old, when Tom was born. Giving birth at that age carried many dangers for mother and child in those days.
“Because of her age, she wanted a doctor and a hospital she knew,” said Tom’s cousin Mary Anne McGrew. So Kathryn left Kentucky and returned to her hometown of Chattanooga for Tom’s birth. “She felt more comfortable here.”
Baby Tom and his mother soon joined his father in Pikeville, Ky.
Tom graduated from Pikeville High School in 1967. His father died the following year at age 65.
Tom’s mother, age 100, now lives at a Chattanooga retirement community. Tom, who never married, also is survived by five cousins.
Tom earned a bachelor’s degree in English in 1971 and a master’s degree in library science in 1972 from the University of Kentucky. He continued his education throughout his life, taking college courses, attending seminars and brainstorming with scholars and other professionals to master computer, research and organizational skills.
His career began at Louisiana State University at Eunice. Tom worked at Prestonburg (Ky.) Community College and Cleveland (Tenn.) State Community College before joining the staff at USCA in 1986.
USCA officials will likely make and announce a decision on how to recognize Tom’s life and contributions to the university after Spring Break.
Tom’s interest in obituaries as a research tool led him to attend many obit-centered gatherings. Last year, he became an associate member of the Society of Professional Obituary Writers (SPOW).
He endeared himself to obituary writers, educators, researchers and aficionados who attended the first SPOW Convention in 2009 and nine Great Obituary Writers Conferences before that. The latter confabs were hosted by Carolyn Gilbert, founder of what became known as the International Association of Obituarists (IAO).
“I think Tom created that word ‘obituarists’ or came across it in his research,” said award-winning obituary writer Kay Powell, who met Tom at an obits conference.
“I was in line for supper,” Powell recalled. “A man behind me started talking to me about the obit for a bowlegged ballet teacher that I had written for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“I turned to him in amazement, and Tom introduced himself. Years earlier, he had been looking for feature style obits to archive at USC Aiken and discovered the pieces I wrote for the AJC. He quoted entire paragraphs from obits I didn’t even remember writing.
“Nearly 15 years ago, Tom gave me a sobriquet which people quote to this day. When ATLANTA magazine profiled me and the new feature style obits of the AJC, the writer interviewed Tom, who dubbed me ‘doyenne of the death beat.’”
The quiet librarian made his humorous remarks without flourish, as if he were talking about the weather. His matter-of-fact delivery made his comments all the more hilarious.
Larken Bradley, who writes obituaries for the West Marin Citizen in Point Reyes Station, Calif., reports, “My favorite Tom moment was in the lobby of the Plaza Hotel (in Las Vegas, N.M.) when I sat down on the couch next to the big stuffed gorilla. Tom sat in a chair across from me, and I gestured to the gorilla and said, ‘Have you met my sister Bernice?’
“After a beat Tom said, ‘If she's single, maybe I'll ask her out.’”
Carolyn Gilbert, IAO conference host, said, “The last time I saw Tommy was at the 10th Great Obituary Writers' Conference. As always, he was so pleased to see old friends and to make the acquaintance of new obituarists who attended.
"I remember presenting him with an enlargement of a photograph made at his first conference back in Jefferson, Texas, in 2000. It was an image of a smiling Tom with the Grim Reaper -- a surprise guest at the end of the conference.”
His many fans -- among obit writers and people who just love to read and collect obits -- were drawn to him not only for his scholarly research but for his kind and thoughtful nature. In an effort not to offend anyone, Tom, who was a Quaker, seemed to carefully consider his words when controversial topics entered the conversation.
He once said, “I get lots of practice in giving the appearance of impartiality as part of my work in the library. It’s my job to guide people to the information they seek, regardless of my opinion of the purpose they have in mind for it. The students and faculty would not trust me, if I were known as an opinionated crank. I don’t even do bumper stickers and lapel buttons during election season for that reason.”
Tom published “A Librarian Looks at the Obituaries” in Grassroots Editor in 2001 and presented a peer review paper on “The Obituary: A Dying Art Turned Lively Again” to library associations.
“He wanted to know everything about historical and cutting-edge obits,” said Alana Baranick, SPOW director. “In the last couple of years, he dug into the development of obits in newspapers that serve the African-American community.”
While Tom could cite examples from literature about innovative ways to use obituaries in a teaching environment, he also became a student of online multimedia presentations of obits.
Incorporating text, photos, Internet links, video and audio into obits went hand-in-hand with what Tom called “a notion that has been jelling inside my little brain that obits now have enhanced value as an educational tool, not only as an information resource.”
The result: He co-founded the Obituaries in Education Interest Group.”
At IAO conferences, Tom presented his research on “Obituaries as a Mirror on Society: What the Research Shows” and on “Sylvanus Urban, Obituarist Extraordinaire: The Gentleman’s Magazine and the Life and Times of John Nichols.”
“I was stunned to hear that he had come near death the last time people gathered in Las Vegas, N.M., (for the last IAO conference in 2008) that a group had gone with him in the ambulance and kept watch over him through the night,” Johnson said.
“It feels right that people are gathering again, from all corners of the world, to pay tribute to a gentle man and a gentleman who brought a scholarly presence to that lark of the conference.”
Tom had been planning to attend the SPOW Convention in Philadelphia at the end of April 2010.
His cousin added, “He loved his part in that and loved to get with you all.”
This obituary was prepared by Tom Hobbs’ friends with help from his family. Please click “Comments” below, if you have Tom Hobbs stories or comments to share.
Wednesday, March 03, 2010
We are terribly sorry to report that Tom Hobbs, reference librarian and assistant professor at the University of South Carolina at Aiken and founder of Obituaries in Education Group on Facebook, died Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010, at his home in North Augusta, S.C.
Above is the photo Tom chose for his Facebook profile. We suggest that his FB friends post condolences on his FB wall, which will likely remain online for long time.
Below, Tom is pictured with Cailin Brown, SPOW contest coordinator, during a Great Obituary Conference in Alfred, N.Y., in 2007.
Tom endeared himself to obituary writers, educators, researchers and aficionados who attended the Society of Professional Obituary Writers (SPOW) Convention in 2009 and many Great Obituary Writers Conferences before that.
Tom had been planning to attend the SPOW Convention in Philadelphia at the end of April 2010. We will miss seeing him again, listening to his views on obits and enjoying the pleasure of his company.
Funeral arrangements are being handled by Lane Funeral Home of Chattanooga, Tenn., and should be posted on Lane's website at http://www.lanefh.com/obituaries.
An obituary will be posted on Obituary Forum in the next few days. We welcome comments and anecdotes.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
For details, go the the SPOW website's Awards page at http://www.obitwriters.org/awards2010.html.
If you want to submit an entry for an obit writing award or nominate someone for a Lifetime Achievement or other special award, but cannot accomplish this by tomorrow's deadine, please contact Cailin Brown, contest coordinator, at email@example.com to ask for an extension.
Good luck, everyone.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Jim Nicholson, the retired award-winning Daily News reporter who became a rock star among obit writers by writing about the extraordinary lives of ordinary people, will be the keynote speaker.
Irv Randolph, managing editor of The Philadelphia Tribune, will speak about his paper’s history as America’s oldest and the Greater Philadelphia region’s largest newspaper serving the African-American community.
The convention’s roundtable on diversity will focus on handling obituaries for African Americans.
Obituary writers and other local journalists from Philadelphia will discuss their news outfit’s policies regarding obituaries. They will share their favorite obits and anecdotes about their experiences on the death beat, as well as offer practical tips on obit writing.
Departing slightly from the theme, Tom Schecker and Barry Nelson, authors of "Mr. Ed: Dead: And Other Obituaries of the Most Famous People Who Never Lived," will discuss the use of obituaries as a satiric device.
The event will start with a kickoff dinner on Thursday, April 22, at a site to be determined.
Professional development sessions will be held during the day on Friday, April 23, and Saturday, April 24, at The Philadelphia Inquirer building at 400 N. Broad St., Philadelphia.
Presentation of the 2010 SPOW Awards for obituary writing will be made at a Friday awards luncheon.
Program updates will be posted at www.obitwriters.org/convention.html.
To register for the convention and/or pay SPOW membership dues, visit http://obitwriters2010.eventbrite.com.
All of these comments have been advertising ploys that make no sense and seemed aimed at getting readers to visit unrelated websites - mostly to buy drugs. Some comments are written in characters that appear to be in an indiscernible foreign language.
If you come across any comments I've missed, please let us know. Thanks.
Tuesday, February 09, 2010
The, ahem, deadline for submitting entries for the 2010 Society of Professional Obituary Writers Awards and nominations for Lifetime Achievement and other special honors for obituary writing is Thursday, Feb. 25, 2010.
The crystal tombstone-shaped awards will be presented on April 23, 2010, during an awards luncheon at The Philadelphia Inquirer.
For details, visit www.obitwriters.org/awards2010.html.
Friday, February 05, 2010
Sunday, January 31, 2010
She tells the interviewer: "Being an obituary writer is the most interesting and terrifying job in the newsroom—interesting because you never repeat yourself and terrifying because you never know who will be the next to die."
Yes, while other reporters are struggling to find a fresh way to write yet another first day of school, opening of the legislature or weather story, we get to delve into an interesting life and bring readers a different story every day.
It's a quick read, has a fabulous photo of Sandra and gives insight on how she "makes her subject 'breathe one more time. . .'."
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Until I read it, I didn't realize that avoiding the D word is at least as old as the Bible. Alcala points out that in the book of Genesis (the first book of the Bible) "Abraham gave up the ghost . . . and was gathered unto his people."
Alcala also cites the website of Bea Toney Bailey, who has a local cable TV show called "Bea on Bereavement" sponsored by the Interfaith Service Bureau. The site is called "Farewell, My Friend."
Wednesday, January 06, 2010
We expect to announce the complete program schedule, including speakers and topics as well as registration information, before the end of January.
Please note that we have not contracted for a block of hotel rooms, but we are designating Four Points by Sheraton Philadelphia Airport as our convention hotel. Room rates at downtown hotels near the Inquirer building are exceptionally high the week of our convention. Four Points and most other airport-area hotels offer much lower rates and special promotions.
Four Points also has a lobby, lounge and restaurant where conventioneers can hang out and meet for purposes of carpooling and cab-sharing to travel downtown.
We'll set up an online site for registration after the program is announced. We'll confer with those who register early to determine the site of our kickoff dinner and more.
We'll post updates as they become available. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or my personal email address for more information and to offer suggestions.