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Shannon Bardwell: Prize-winning obits


Shannon Bardwell



"Hi, my name is Sarah," said the lovely young women as she pulled up a chair beside me. 


We chatted, and I learned that Sarah was collecting information for obituaries, a topic dear to my heart. I confessed my love for obituaries. I have been known to read out-of-town, even out-of-state, obituaries just for the pleasure of it. If you love people''s stories, where better to find them than in an obituary? As for writing skill, try summing up a person''s entire life in 250 words.  


I shared with Sarah a favorite movie where Robert Preston, an aging newspaper man, is relegated to the obit department. His demotion was considered one step above receiving the big gold watch. I don''t think young Sarah knew who Robert Preston was, but she listened with interest. Sarah had a few obituary stories of her own. 


Times and economics have changed obituary writing, but at one time the best obits anywhere were found in the Mobile Press Register. They went something like this: 


"MARY MYRTLE MILLER, affectionately known as "Sis" by all her family and friends, departed this life for eternity on Jan. 7. Mary Myrtle battled ovarian cancer for six long years. She was preceded in death by Theodore, her loving husband of 53 years. Her surviving siblings are Mamie, Vivian, Leroy and Lottie. She was also predeceased by a sister, Mary Louise, who died in infancy from a high fever. Mary Myrtle leaves her cherished memory with one devoted daughter, Myrtle Louise, and her husband, Sidney. 


"Myrtle Louise and Sidney graced Mary Myrtle with a very talented granddaughter, Alice Mobley. Alice Mobley was her grandmother''s pride and joy. She especially enjoyed Alice Mobley''s many accolades in the area of music and dance. Throughout all of Mary Myrtle''s cancer treatments she never once missed a recital. Friends say that Mary Myrtle was quite the dancer herself and must have passed this dancing gene to Alice Mobley. 


"Mary Myrtle''s prized poodle, Fitzgerald, will be cared for by her special friend, Felix Monroe. The entire family would like to express their great appreciation to Felix for all the joy and happiness that he brought to their mother during her remaining years on this earth. 


"Mary Myrtle Miller worked for 35 years at the business office for the J.C. Penny''s store on Main Street in downtown Mobile, and many customers remember her well. After retiring, Mary Myrtle felt the calling into religious work. She spent the remainder of her days teaching Sunday school classes and leading the girls'' choir. Many of the young girls affectionately referred to their song leader as ''Sister Mary Myrtle.''  


"Mary Myrtle''s home going celebration and interment will be held on Jan. 14, at 2 p.m. just after Sunday services at the Mobile House of the Resurrection on McArthur Drive. The family has asked that any memorials be made to the girls'' choir or the Mobile Poodle Society."  



Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.


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Reader Comments

Article Comment kj commented at 3/19/2011 11:21:00 PM:

My favorite was the Telegraph's obituary of Graham Mason:

"GRAHAM MASON, the journalist who has died aged 59, was in the 1980s the drunkest man in the Coach and Horses, the pub in Soho where, in the half century after the Second World War, a tragicomedy was played out nightly by its regulars.


Hilariously sad.


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