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Published August 25, 2020


I plan to write my own obituary

By John Toth / The Bulletin

I have decided to write my own obituary to make sure it is correct when the time comes, which I hope won’t be for a long while.

I actually wrote a lot of obituaries at the Victoria Advocate as a young reporter in the early 1980s. That was quite an eye-opener, so to speak, at least for me.
Perhaps I didn’t value it back then as I should have, but writing obituaries was good training.

I got into this business for the same reasons many others did - to make a difference - somewhat like Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. I was probably not going to get a chance to do something on their level, but I had visions that when I am done with my career, I would ride off into the sunset, satisfied that a piece of the world is now a better place.

But it all started with the discipline, paying attention to detail and responsibility that obituary writing required. So, I shelved my plans to meet with Deep Throat and cranked out the obituaries, along with other local stories.

I had my reality check early in the game, when the editor of my college weekly paper assigned me an article about why one of the doors at Shephard Hall was locked all the time.

I really didn’t care. All you had to do was go a few feet over and use another door. Or, enter through the basement door leading to the cafeteria, my favorite hangout. That’s the door I always used.

It was my first bylined article. They even sent out a photographer to take a picture of the door.

When I arrived at The Advocate for work one day, a stack of obituaries and other rewrites awaited, piled neatly on my desk. They had to be done first, and then there was the school board meeting at night, which was like watching paint dry.

I did the best I could. I even called the funeral homes for some clarifications. But I could have done a better job had I not been given that many. People just happened to die all at once.

I don’t remember any of the details of those obituaries. There were several daily, and I just knocked them out and moved on to other things.

But every one of those rewrites was a history of someone’s life, and I was entrusted to get it right. I felt an obligation to pay tribute to someone I never knew.

Which is why I am going to write my own obituary instead of trusting it to an overworked writer. To brush up, though, I started reading obituaries in newspapers, just to get an idea of how it is done today.

A woman who was born in 1923 in Poland immigrated with her family to Uruguay when she was 7 years old and came to the United States as a young bride in her late teens. That had to be an adventurous childhood. She knew at least three languages.

Another woman born in 1927 worked on the Manhattan Project during WWII and saved enough money to put herself through college after the war. I would have liked to talk to her about her experiences at the Manhattan Project.

A man born in 1926 was the quarterback of his high school football team, was on the swim team and managed the rowing team. He was also voted by his senior class as most likely to succeed. It sounds like he had a perfect high school career. Then he went to college and became a pharmacist.

A woman got married and had two children. Her obituary included that she prepared such fantastic school lunches for her kids that they made the other students jealous. I would like to know what kind of lunches they were and if her kids ever had to cough up those lunches to a bully.

I’m going to make my obituary an interesting read with as many details as 1,000 words will allow. Then I’ll put it in a folder, where it will remain for many more decades.

And then I’ll update it to include my 100th birthday.

(John looks forward to hearing from you on this subject. Send me a note at john.bulletin@gmail.com. You can even send an old-fashioned letter to: The Bulletin, P.O. Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516.)