My first assignment as a cub newspaper reporter was to write obituaries. It was not the most stimulating task in the newsroom, but a necessary one nonetheless. Obituaries were considered to be the rite of passage for any reporter hoping to advance to bigger, more challenging assignments.
Details for obituary write ups and customary death notices would be submitted by funeral home directors on a special form and it would be my job to convert the information to news copy for publication in the news columns and classified advertising section of the current day's paper.
Copy deadline was 11:30 a.m. and the funeral homes were required to deliver the information to the news desk by no later than 11:00 a.m. Same day publication was crucial to the funeral homes because of the need to get visitation times out to the public in advance of the funeral service itself. I was never comfortable when up against a fast-approaching deadline because it meant that I would often be required to rush my copy and confine it to the more-often-than-not meagre details handwritten in the blank spaces of the forms provided by the funeral home.
It did not take me long to understand that obituary copy should be more than just a name, time of death and funeral service details. Obituaries, if handled correctly, represent some one's life, someone who only a matter of days before lived, breathed, functioned, loved and was loved; someone who made contributions to life in any number of ways and someone whose achievements were their legacy. Wherever possible, I took it upon myself to solicit additional facts and missing information about the deceased -- occupation, community service, special interests, affiliations -- to add to the customary list of survivors. In all seriousness, I felt that it was the last thing that I could do for them.
One of the other things that my newspaper experience taught me, was respect for names. People and their names are what community newspaper should be all about -- the more the better. People love to see their names in print, likewise their relatives and friends. People also deserve to see their names spelled correctly and it behooves publishers to insist on that being the case.
I make frequent contributions to a Dresden Virtual History Group forum on Facebook and I commented the other day on the significance of names and why I include so many of them in my nostalgic writings about my old hometown. We all relate to names, familiar ones in particular. They prompt memories and allow us to escape, for a few brief moments at least, to another time and another place, to old relationships. We remember people by their names. When we forget a name,
recall of the person is blurred. Remember a name and everything about the person comes into focus.
The one defining characteristic we all share, the one unique and profound element of each and everyone of us is the name we are given. From the reason to why we were given such a name to the historical lineage and significance of what a name has come to represent, our name (beyond it’s objective purpose) encompasses what and who each one of us is. It’s essence is at the very heart of our existence.
We all have good, honorable names with long histories. Our fathers gave them to us. Protect them. Respect them. Be proud of them, o ye sons and daughters.
Names do not die with the person. They live on in the hearts and minds of those who remember them.
And, oh yes...In the obituary column archives of our newspapers too.