My dad, who was a veteran journalist, used to joke that he hoped to die on a slow news Sunday, so his obituary would be prominently featured in the next day’s paper by editors looking for copy to fill the paper.
He didn’t, but his obit still made it into two newspapers, the Baltimore Sun and Newsday, which respectively covered the areas where he had grown up and become a newspaperman and where he lived for the last 50 years of his life. He didn’t make the New York Times; apparently you have to be multiple kinds of wonderful for that, and the wonderful ness of my smart, gentle, kind and loving dad wasn’t quite enough to make the cut.
So what does it taken to be deemed the worthy subject of a real obituary, not just a paid death notice? The Times itself has been doing some soul-searching about that lately, recognizing that “who gets remembered — and how — inherently involves judgment. To look back at the obituary archives can, therefore, be a stark lesson in how society valued various achievements and achievers.”
Big surprise: the Times’ look back at its own obituary archives revealed that the achievements of white man have been disproportionately valued in those pages over the years.
So consider this: When my father-in-law died in 2007, the Philadelphia Inquirer ran his obituary. It reported that he served in the Merchant Marine during and after World War II, founded a couple of successful businesses with his wife, and was involved in many community activities.
My mother-in-law, Doro Kerr, died three weeks ago, but the Inquirer said they would not be able to run her obituary. Thumbnail sketch of her life? She fled Nazi Germany in the late 1930s and started over again in this country. She worked for the Inquirer itself and was the first woman at the paper to sell national advertising, despite some resistance from her immediate superior, who is said to have commented that the people who were best at that kind of work wore pants. (She says she told him that would be no problem, she’d be happy to get a few pair.) She founded a couple of successful businesses with her husband—and believe me, he might have had the big ideas but she was the one who made them happen—and was involved in many community activities.
His life worth an obit. Hers not. Coincidence? You be the judge.
Anyway, she will be remembered at a memorial service this Saturday, May 5, at Solebury Friends Meeting. The service itself begins at 2, and it will be preceded by a 20-minute prelude of piano pieces that were meaningful to her. She will be remembered and honored there by those who knew and loved her, so all will be well.