Sunday, February 21, 2021

Fascinating subject + skilled writer = great obituary

You don't have to be rich or famous to warrant a great obituary. You just have to live an interesting life -- and catch the attention of a top-notch journalist.

Maureen O'Donnell, obituary writer for The Chicago Sun-Times and the former president of The Society of Professional Obituary Writers, is one such reporter and her obit of Florence Jones-Smith is a must-read. 

Let me entice you with her lede: 

Florence Jones-Smith grew up the 13th of 15 children in Crawfordsville, Arkansas, and she kept a wisp of cotton in a glass jar to remind herself she never wanted to go back. 

“This represents the first and last cotton I ever picked,” she’d say.

Click here to read the rest of Florence's fascinating life story.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Quote of the Day

"Everybody thinks that they’re important enough to warrant a big obit. But the best obituaries come in sort of understated. An obit’s a story; it’s not just a résumé." --Adam Bernstein, Washington Post

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

What is lost without obits? Great stories

Although there are wonderful obituaries still published in Australia, dwindling resources have significantly reduced their appearances in newspapers. So what is lost when this happens?

"I believe you lose perhaps the most important journalism instrument, in terms of history. It's the first verdict of society on a life lived. And if you want to know what life was like in times past, go to the obituaries." --Nigel Starck, author of "Life After Death: The Art of the Obituary," recently told ABC Radio Perth.

Click here to listen to the entire interview.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

New Grimmy winners announced at ObitCon 2019

Every two years, The Society of Professional Obituary Writers honors excellence in obituary writing with The Grimmys. Reporters and editors from all over the world submit entries to the contest, which is then blind-judged by a panel of society members.

Trophies were awarded at ObitCon in Washington D.C. last week, but if you were unable to attend, here's the list of winners:

Best long form obit: Aretha Franklin
Written by Hillel Italie, AP

Best short form obit (under 800 words): Sarkis Tashjian
Written by Maureen O’Donnell, Chicago Sun-Times

Best obit of an ordinary Joe/Jane: Ian Jordan
Written by Tom Hawthorn, The Globe and Mail

Obituary writer of the year: Harrison Smith, The Washington Post

Lifetime achievement: Tom Hawthorn, The Globe and Mail

Click here to read the obits that won this year's awards.

--Group photo by Jen Peters. Trophy closeup by Harrison Smith.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

An art project: "Remember me"

I’ve been a member of SPOW for a couple of years although I’m not an obit writer. I’m a Montana-based artist who uses anecdotes from family/friend-written obits in my artwork—hand-embroidered found family photographs. Wanting to create empathy in a society that was changing in uncomfortable ways, several years ago I began a new project: “Remember me: a collective narrative in found words and photographs.” To date I’ve completed nearly 750 individual pieces. Here's my artist statement about the project:

The obituary, a­  family photo— these form and record a life’s memories. Both synopsize familiar human experiences — living, loving — and were created for personal use. The sameness and difference exemplified in these personal remembrances create a sense of community and make us aware of our common humanity. 

In fall 2015, I began work on a combinatorial project, “Remember me: a collective narrative in found words and photographs.” This project intimately connects vernacular photographs with anecdotes culled from family/friend-written obituaries. Every United States state and many Canadian provinces are represented. Daily, the work brings me joy so I continue to make new pieces.

I hand-embroider anecdotes from obituaries into found snapshots and studio portraits. The obituaries published (and paid for) in local newspapers and on websites (by funeral homes and international businesses like are written by those who knew and loved the deceased. Snapshots and studio portraits are taken out of love to remember people, places and times. Embroidery is a decorative technique, and, when done by hand — stitch-by-stitch — an insistent, devotional act. 

In “Remember me” the photos “read” the texts and vice versa, teasing pretension, tragi-comedy and profound truths about the human condition from sentimental artifacts. In seeking empathetic connections, I create representative keepsakes. 

The concept behind my project is to ultimately, intimately, illustrate our collective narrative. We see our personal truths reflected, through words and photographs, in the lives of others. We are reminded, in this exceptionally acrimonious age, of our commonalities — that we are more alike than we are different.

I've attached a few of my favorite pieces and shot of a current exhibition. Please feel free to send feedback and/or contact me with your thoughts/comments about this work. (

Thanks for looking!

I post a piece most days on Instagram:

You can see many more pieces here: