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Obituaries of the Week: Comedic Legend, Provocative Columnist, Poetry Slam Movement’s Star, and Prominent Businessman and Philanthropist

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This week, we pay tribute to a comedic legend, newspaper columnist, poet and philanthropist.

Sid Caesar was a legendary comedian and TV visionary. He paved the way for fellow funny people Mel Brooks, Woody Allen and Neil Simon, who all wrote for Caesar’s sketch-comedy program Your Show of Shows. He also helped inspire Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner’s “Two Thousand Year Old Man” routine and was a mentor to dozens of other comedians. As Mel Brooks put it, “No Sid Caesar, no Mel Brooks.” http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/13/arts/television/sid-caesar-comic-who-blazed-tv-trail-dies-at-91.html

Gregory Kane, a former newspaper columnist for The Baltimore Sun, was a provocative writer who described himself as “a lifelong Baltimore resident, liberal on some issues, conservative on others, a veritable fascist on the topic of crime.” ‘He challenged a lot of traditional political thought in the African-American community,” said talk-show radio host Anthony McCarthy. ‘When I’d have him as a guest on my show, he’d say to me, ‘I’m your token conservative.’ He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize with reporter Gilbert Lewthwaite in 1997 on a three-part series about slavery in Sudan. http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/obituaries/bs-md-ob-gregory-kane-20140219,0,3008962.story#ixzz2ttaXhhHB

Maggie Estep was a novelist and poet who brought spoken-word poetry mainstream in the 1990’s. The Los Angeles Times says “Estep was a sassy, slightly twisted New Yorker who wrote and performed humorous, biting pieces that merged poetry with stand-up comedy.” She rose to fame by performing in HBO’s “Def Poetry Jam,” Woodstock ’94 and Lollapalooza. http://www.latimes.com/obituaries/la-me–maggie-estep-20140214,0,6984728.story#ixzz2tteqREwv

Stewart W. Bainum Sr. arrived in Washington D.C. in 1936 with three dollars in his pocket. He went on the found the nursing home and hospitality chains now known as HCR Manor Care and Choice Hotels International, which includes brands such as Comfort Inn, Quality Inn, Clarion, Econo Lodge and Sleep Inn. He and his wife founded the Commonweal Foundation in 1968 to support the education of underprivileged youths. In 1988, Mr. Bainum promised 67 seventh-graders at Kramer Junior High School in Southeast Washington that he would finance their college educations if they graduated from high school. He remained in touch with some of those students until his death, his son told the Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/stewart-w-bainum-sr-dc-businessman-dies/2014/02/19/07eeae6a-98be-11e3-b88d-f36c07223d88_story.html

 

 

Obits of the Week: A Folk Legend, Heroic Veteran, Cartoonist, Marlboro Man and Rodeo Clown

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We stated it in an earlier post on The Finale and we’ll state it again: a well-written obituary—whether it be for a movie star, rodeo clown (see below) or your next door neighbor—can be fascinating, funny, evocative and an opportunity to learn about some interesting people who aren’t necessarily being profiled in major publications.

Each week, The Finale will highlight a few of the many, many interesting obituaries from the week, honoring a handful of the countless magnificent people who left this world better than they found it. The fist installment includes a folk legend, heroic veteran, cartoonist, Marlboro man and rodeo clown.

Pete Seeger, the legendary folk singer and activist who “sang for the labor movement in the 1940s and 1950s, for civil rights marches and anti-Vietnam War rallies in the 1960s, and for environmental and antiwar causes in the 1970s and beyond. ‘We Shall Overcome,’ which Mr. Seeger adapted from old spirituals, became a civil rights anthem.” http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/29/arts/music/pete-seeger-songwriter-and-champion-of-folk-music-dies-at-94.html?_r=0

James David Addis, a WWII hero who, as a teenager, served with the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airbone Division. Jim saw combat in Sicily, Holland and Germany, where he fought in the Battle of the Bulge. After being captured and then released by German soldiers, Addis helped liberate Auschwitz. http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/DailyBreeze/obituary.aspx?n=James-Addis&pid=169407568

Morrie Turner was one of the first mainstream black cartoonists and was most famous for the comic strip “Wee Pals,” which Ebony called “the first truly integrated strip.” Mr. Turner said he wanted the strip to promote tolerance and understanding, or “rainbow power.” He once wrote that of wanting “to portray a world without prejudice, a world in which people’s differences — race, religion, gender and physical and mental ability — are cherished, not scorned.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/comics/morrie-turner-dies-at-90-pioneering-wee-pals-cartoonist/2014/01/28/181143ea-883b-11e3-833c-33098f9e5267_story.html

Eric Lawson, the actor who portrayed The Marlboro Man in the 1970’s, also had bit parts in “Baretta,” “Charlie’s Angels,” and “Dynasty.” He is the fifth “Marlboro Man” to lose his life due to a smoking-related illness. Lawson was later featured in an anti-smoking ad and an Entertainment Tonight segment about the dangers of smoking. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/27/eric-lawson-marlboro-man-dies_n_4671746.html

Quail Dobbs was a rodeo clown for 35 years, and was inducted into the ProRodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame in 2002. He retired in 1998 to become a West Texas judge. http://www.khou.com/entertainment/rodeo-houston/Beloved-rodeo-clown-Quail-Dobbs-dead-at-72-240629861.html

 

 

The Socialite Who Killed a Nazi With Her Bare Hands and What We Can Learn From Other Amazing Obituaries

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In an ideal world I’d read the newspaper everyday cover-to-cover but on those frequent time crunched mornings, I’ll scan the major headlines and then go straight to the obituary page. I see the obit page as a mini non-fiction book where I can learn about so many extraordinary people in such a short amount of time.

In 2012 The New York Times ran 30 obituaries on the front page, more than double over the year before. William McDonald, the Times Obituary editor said, “Obituaries are essentially journalistic profiles that open windows onto the recent past.” Well-written obituaries are so popular that The New York Times releases a book each year containing its best recent obits. Last year’s book was brilliantly titled “The Socialite Who Killed A Nazi With Her Bare Hands and 143 Other Fascinating People Who Died This Past Year: The Best of the New York Times Obituaries, 2013.” (Read about that socialite here.) 

So what makes a great obituary? (Hint: Nazi-hunters, nuclear physicists and popular celebrities aren’t the only ones to receive well-written obits.)

  • Colorful details: An obituary for a Mississippi man named Harry Stamps went viral last spring because his daughter, who wrote the piece, decided to forgo the traditional obit and write something that paints a touching and funny picture of her dad. Stamps loved a “martini glass filled with buttermilk, garnished with a chunk of cornbread” and “his signature everyday look was all his: A plain pocketed T-shirt designed by the fashion house Fruit of the Loom.” I didn’t know Harry, but I think I would have liked him.
  • More feelings, Less Facts: The recent death of former New York Observer editor Peter Kaplan prompted many poignant tributes including one from his friend and colleague Phillip Weiss who wrote, “The feeling he cultivated in everyone he worked with was that we needed him, that he saw the very best inside us. He would close the door and make you feel like the most important person in the world.” These shorter tributes to Kaplan on Twitter were also all about feeling, less about fact.
  • Everyone is interesting and everyone has a story: Maclean’s, the Canadian magazine, has a regular section called The End, which features obituaries for everyday, extraordinary people who may have lived quieter or less well-known lives but are nonetheless fascinating to read about. I’d love to see more features like this in national publications. 
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7 Steps to a Successful Oral History

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StoryCorps, the non-profit organization that facilitates the ability to record, share and preserve the story of our lives is celebrating its 10th anniversary. StoryCorps is one of the largest oral history projects and has inspired millions of people to feel more connected both to their loved ones and to strangers. Everyone has an interesting story to tell!

Tribute shares StoryCorps’ values in the importance of capturing people’s character, stories, humor, etc. It is incredibly rewarding to create lasting legacies with books and video tributes, but sometimes a simple audio recording is all you need.

Here are 7 tips for a successful oral history interview:

  • Provide context: Before you start the interview, introduce yourself, the interviewee and provide the date, location and other essentials so in 100 years, the audience will know the context.
  • Don’t stop and start: Keep the recording device or video camera on throughout the interview (unless asked to turn it off). You often get the best answers from the “outtakes.”
  • Don’t interrupt: Try not to interrupt the interviewee and let them take the discussion where they want. Sometimes this can lead to fascinating discoveries. Also, don’t be afraid of pauses. Sometimes it takes a few moments to conjure up memories so allow a few moments of silence in between questions to be sure your interviewee has completed his or her thought.
  •  Follow-up: Use follow questions to invite more information on interesting subjects, such as, “When did that happen?” “Can you give me an example of this happening?” “How did you feel about that?”
  • Stay Engaged: The interviewee feels more comfortable knowing you are paying attention rather than looking at your notes or recording device.
  • Get personal: Personal questions about first love, divorce, embarrassing moments, etc. are hard to ask but they often elicit some of the best stories you’ve never heard.
  • Accept no for an answer: If you ask something that your interviewee doesn’t want to answer, don’t push it. If you want to try asking the controversial questions, do it towards the end of the interview.

Make sure the share the recording with your family and friends! It is a gift they will treasure and sharing will surely amplify the legacy of your loved one.

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Found at The National Funeral Directors Association Meeting

I recently attended the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) meeting in Austin, Texas. It was a great opportunity to learn about new trends in the industry as well as meet some amazing people who are passionate about helping families grieve and remember loved ones.

 

Some of the highlights include:

 

  • Urns: Though I saw many beautifully designed caskets and urns, my overall favorite was “Souvenair” an urn by 33 Design Labs. This simply designed, modern wind chime has just the softest ring that can make you feel like your loved one is with you when you hear the wind blow.

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  • Memory Books: Funeral Directors can create printed books using photos, obituaries and well wishes from family and friends via software from digital guestbooks.

 

  • Video: Video solutions are in-demand in the funeral industry. I spoke with multiple vendors and funeral directors who agree that families like slideshows and videos played at services. Funeral Directors are also offering videos of the service—livestream and DVD—both for guests who are not able to attend in-person and the family who want to remember the tribute to their loved one.

 

  • Personalization: You don’t have to be Richard Branson to be buried in space—Moon Memorials is a company that will launch your loved one’s ashes to the moon. Also, hearses driven by motorcycles, gemstones made with hair or ashes, and pet funerals are just a few examples of how the funeral industry is responding to a greater demand for customization.

 

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Have You Ever Imagined Your Own Funeral?

When people ask me why I started Tribute, I tell them it’s because everyone deserves to have their lives celebrated and final wishes honored. I’m passionate about helping people get through difficult times and am fascinated by the incredible lives of everyday people in this world.

According to a very informal survey, eight out of ten of my family and friends (over the age of 30) admitted that they have imagined what their funeral would be like. It’s not something any of us want to think about often but every now and then, the thought creeps into our imaginations. Questions such as “How many people will show up?” and “What will be said about me?” were common.

“…eight out of ten of my family and friends (over the age of 30) admitted that they have imagined what their funeral would be like.”

Others had more specific ideas, including gospel choirs, comedy roasts and rowdy parties.  They are certainly not alone. According to a recent NBC News report, the funeral industry is changing due to baby boomers’ changing attitudes.  They want more control, they don’t want to burden family members during a difficult time and they are increasingly having personalized funerals.

The Big ChillWe’re personalizing everything,” said Nathan Smith, founder and president of ‘Til We Meet Again, a custom casket and urn company. Smith opened his flagship store in Wichita, Kan., three years ago and has sold customized products such as tie-died designed casket for a “self described hippie” and motorcycle themed urns. Today, he has four stores around the country and franchise agreements for more than a dozen others. “There is such a huge demand for this product,” he said. “The baby boomers are driving this.

Other recent trends include funeral livecasts, green burials and celebration of life events.

Here at The Finale, we will cover new trends in the industry, share best practices and highlight obituaries of some of the fascinating people that make up this world.

I hope you will join us.

~ Kate

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