Why I Started “My Favorite Obits”

Fifteen years ago I interviewed an obituary writer at the Long Beach Press-Telegram who was writing obits of “nobodies.” I loved her. I loved the interview. And I loved the work she was doing. She unearthed the peculiarities that connected the grieving family members with the person they’d lost.

I’ve long since forgotten her name, and although I played and replayed the interview on my KPFK Radio program, Deadline LA, neither the station nor I archived copies of the shows for long. I’m sorry I can’t acknowledge her by name and how she got me thinking about how lives matter and who gets recognized, and how – at the end of a life – to convey an individual’s humanity rather than their public accomplishments.

Today I find myself combing the obits each day as part of my job with LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. Sometimes I read one and think ‘If only this family had not tried to conform to a preconceived idea of an obituary, I might understand what was wonderful about the person they’d lost.’ Sometimes writers surprise me in their passion and their humor.

This is a place for those latter obits. May they give families the courage to print unvarnished, unconventional portraits.

Read the first paragraph. Then read it again.

I was so struck by this obit I had to read the first paragraph to my husband for a reality check. 

1932 – 2016 Richard (Dick) Kimball Sears, 83, passed away peacefully on April 5, 2016 surrounded by loving family after a short illness prompted by multiple flesh wounds inflicted by angry neighbors who objected to his habit of wearing shorts and aloha shirts in the winter.

Dick was born in Boston Massachusetts in 1932 to Elizabeth Josephine Kimball and Richard Frederick Sears. The family, motivated by the depression and WWII, moved several times during his childhood culminating in residence in Pasadena, California in 1943 and lasting until his first marriage in 1952. Having attended Occidental and Claremont McKenna Colleges, graduating from the latter Magna cum laude, with honors, in 1955, (Economics and Labor Relations majors), he was employed by Beckman Instruments for the next 14 years in progressively responsible positions in personnel administration. Later employers included Avery International, the Clorox Company, Fireman’s Fund Insurance and the Irvine Company. In each of these, he lead in the introduction of practical, yet innovative, ways of developing and strengthening positive employer – employee relations and of introducing sound management practices.

While enjoying success in the business world, Dick embraced a lifelong passion for surfing and for the ocean as a sailor and power boater. He had the good fortune of surfing during its evolution and “Golden Age” from 1947 to 1990. He sailed often to Catalina Island in the 1970s and in San Francisco bay in the 1980s. He culminated his passion for ocean sports on powerboats in the Santa Barbara Channel and in Canada. Dick embraced the concept of “flawless good governance” in local institutions, such as homeowner’s associations in which he served two different associations shaping policies of openness and clear communication. He was also appointed to a one year term on the San Luis Obispo Grand Jury.

At age 80, he was elected to the Session of Elders of his church, a post in which he was honored and humbled to serve. He was a gardener in the sense that he saw plants and floral displays, in general, as an important part of living. From his maternal grandmother, Jean, he inherited a love for begonias, planting them year after year in her memory.

A divorcee, and later a widower, Dick met his present wife, Wanda, in 1995 and they were married three years later. Together, they have enjoyed many very good years together.

In addition to Wanda, Dick is succeeded by his beloved children, Brad Sears, Wendy Ginsberg, Katharine Arrow and Kaylin Sears and his brother Fred Sears. His extended family includes Wanda’s children Shelley Pineo and David Jahn for whom he has great fondness. The family is rounded out with eight grandchildren and three great-grandsons.

A memorial service will be held at the Coastal Community Church of Grover Beach (1830 Farroll Road, Grover Beach, CA 93433) on May 14 at 2 PM. Family and friends are warmly invited to join in the celebration of Dick’s life. A reception will follow at the church. All are welcome to wear aloha shirts. In lieu of flowers, donations in Dick’s memory may be sent to Coastal Community Church or Wilshire Hospice (285 South St., Suite J, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401).

Published in the Los Angeles Times on Apr. 17, 2016- See more at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/latimes/obituary.aspx?n=richard-kimball-sears&pid=179639257#sthash.qOmOopIk.dpuf


Here’s The Obit that Launched The Blog

As obits go, this one’s pretty great. A bereaved spouse sputtering, eloquently. 

October 30, 1953 – March 31, 2016 Eva Lois Easton Leaf born October 30, 1953 in Rochester, New York and died March 31, 2016 in Santa Monica, California.

Beloved and devoted daughter of Carleton J. Easton Sr. and Elvira Turri Easton (both deceased). Niece to Rochester’s legendary Turri sisters, and goddaughter of Alice and Angelo Schiano, on her mother’s side, she was a proud member of Rochester’s extended Turri family. Those she most admired, respected and emulated in her father’s family included her distinguished uncle, Judge William Easton, and his son, attorney “Billy” Easton. Eva’s Roman and DAR heritage informed her world view and shaped her character, and to this day, the fact that her maternal grandmother kept an apartment inside the walls of Rome ’til the day she died, and that an Easton ancestor was a suffragette perhaps made her the fierce Roman/Italian-American that she always was. Like a sister to Erie Street’s Pam and Herbie J and all of her other favorite cousins both living and deceased (“Aunt” Rita Tacci, “Cousin” Rita & Billy Valerie, and Carl Tacci.) Best friend of brother-in-law Robert and a loving sister-in-law of Richard and his family. Godmother to Andrew, Arthur, Bria, Daria, and Jennifer. Always more than just a niece or cousin to her beloved “Uncle” Vincent.

Fierce advocate of the truth. Believer in “lost causes.” She was champion of every fight she took on. The smartest and bravest person we all knew. She always insisted on doing the right thing for the right reason, regardless of the personal cost. Much more than “my better half,” she was and will remain my moral compass. She had a laugh like no other. You knew it a mile away. And a razor sharp wit that set everybody straight. A pool of knowledge so deep and wide made her truly “an original thinker.”

An amazing cook, her sauce and her meals were beyond compare. In heaven, she is being welcomed by so many of her favorite family members — her parents, her aunts and uncles and cousins. She is undoubtedly already stirring up more than her aunt’s sauce. Her great hero Senator Robert F. Kennedy set her course in life: “There are those who look at things the way they are and ask why. I dream of things that never were and ask, ‘why not?'” Or, if we were to slightly edit her friend and musical hero, he might have put it, “God only knows what we’ll be without her.” Rest in peace, pumpkin. I love you the most. David

Published in the Los Angeles Times from Apr. 8 to Apr. 10, 2016- See more at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/latimes/obituary.aspx?pid=179551250#sthash.kEI7bHj8.dpuf