Some obituaries are both historical and telling

Date Published: 
August 19, 2016

One of the sections of our paper most read and discussed by staff members is the obituaries.


It’s often because someone knows someone who has passed, or knows a relative of the deceased. Sometimes it’s because of an age all-too-young or gloriously old that sparks the conversation. And now and then it’s just because someone none of us ever had the chance to meet led a truly-extraordinary life, and left us all with an indelible mark in our souls just for having read about that individual.

Old or young, female or male, rich or poor — the obituary listing is both a capsule of our lives and instructions to survivors on how and when to pay our last respects. Maybe it’s morbid, but it’s something we all must consider at some point in our lives, and I’m guessing I’m not the only one who has pondered what mine would say about the life I’ve led.

In fact, I’ve even taken the time to sit down and pen my own obituary for when that day comes:

“Darin McCann, (Age), died. First, he was born. Somewhere in the middle of those milestones he met some great people, fell in love, lost some people he cared about, took some beatings, raised a kid and lost his hair. Instead of making a donation, go to your closest bar and order a Jameson with two ice cubes. You don’t have to make a toast or anything — just help out Jameson with their lost income with his passing.”

What do you think?

In the interests of full disclosure, my mind got stuck on this topic when reading a story on NBCnews.com recenty about Leroy Black, a 55-year-old New Jersey man who died earlier this month. His obituaries were published in “The Press of Atlantic City.”

Yes, I said “obituaries” and “were.” I also said “published,” “in,” “His,” and a few other words.

You see, Leroy Black had two obituaries in the same edition of The Press, and they were stacked one on top of the other. The first listed his name as Leroy Bill Black, and said he was survived by “his loving wife, Bearette Harrison Black and his son, Jazz Black.” The second identified him as Leroy “Blast” Black, and in addition to his son, siblings, other family and friends, said he was also survived by his “longtime girlfriend, Princess Hall.”

Do you see the problem here?

Mr. Black’s story got me curious about other obituary listings that might have raised some eyebrows. It really didn’t take me very long to find a few to fit the bill.

Dignitymemorial.com shared the obituary of Chan Holcombe, a man who passed away at the age of 72 in Fort Smith, Ark. According to the listing, he was born July 14, 1939, in a log cabin (cool!), was an Air Force veteran (cool!) and was circumcised with his father’s pocketknife (NOT cool!). He also loved to fish, had four children, four grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

So we learned that Mr. Holcombe was a proud veteran who had the good fortune to see future generations of his family tree take hold before he passed, and that he was most likely tougher than a $2 steak. So, I guess there’s that.

A few other people I came across obviously took hold of the idea of writing their own obituaries, or at least contributing to what would be said in them. I’m becoming a bigger fan of this concept the more I think about it — hey, we only get one of these lives, so let’s control how it’s remembered, right?

Let’s take a look at the life of Oklahoma native Thurman Winston, for example. News.com/au shared Mr. Winston’s obituary, and the first 38 lines gave every appearance of a man who led a peaceful, pleasant existence.

The listing explained how he moved his family to Spencer “so his kids could experience the love of their remaining grandparents.” It shared how he had a passion for cars, motorcycles, family, friends and outdoor activities. His motto was “Accomplish what you can because tomorrow ain’t promised.” Nice, right?

His obituary closed with, “He stayed busy. He leaves to cherish his memories of his wife, children and grandkids, a host of backstabbing mother*******s that still owe him money.”

Wow. Talk about getting in the last word.

One obituary that I had actually seen before caught my eye again, and I figured I’d share it with the class. This is the remembrance of Scott E. Entsminger, of Mansfield, Ohio, and was published in the Columbus Dispatch.

The obituary stated that Mr. Entsminger was an accomplished musician and wrote a song each year that he sent to the Cleveland Browns, “as well as offering other advice on how to run the team.” As a football fan myself, that made me laugh. The next line almost brought me to tears.

“He respectfully requests six Cleveland Browns pall bearers so the Browns can let him down one last time.”

Brilliant.

Also brilliant was the obituary of William Ziegler, 69, which can be found at nola.com, the site for The Times-Picayune in New Orleans.

It read that Mr. Ziegler passed away on July 29, 2016, and continued that, “We think he did it on purpose to avoid having to make a decision in the pending presidential election.” It also read, “Unlike previous times, this is not a ploy to avoid creditors or old girlfriends. He assures us that he is gone. He will be greatly missed.”

Mr. Ziegler, I didn’t even know you. But you are missed, sir.