Best obituary you missed last week

“Lester D. Shubin, 84, a Justice Department researcher who turned a DuPont fabric intended for tires into the first truly effective bulletproof vests, saving the lives of more than 3,000 law enforcement officers, died after a heart attack at his Fairfax County home.”

The Washington Post, via my parents’ mention at Thanksgiving. Shubin was also among the troops that liberated Dachau, an early proponent of bomb-sniffing dogs and survived by his wife of 50 years. Cool life.

Also up there for me: Bob Twigg, 62, the USA TODAY reporter who won $9 million in the lottery. I’d somehow never heard his story around the office before. From the Post obit: “In January 1996, working a Sunday morning shift in the USA Today newsroom, he looked at a newswire story about the winning lottery numbers, 3-15-17-28-33-37.”

The next day, a lawyer-friend verified the ticket with the state lottery office. Mr. Twigg begged off a news conference, wanting to break the news in his own paper.

Mr. Twigg wrote that he had been struggling with family medical bills, even though his company health insurance paid 80 percent of its cost. In addition to his journalism job, he had taken a part-time job at a hardware store and drove an eight-year-old Pontiac with 187,000 miles on the odometer that had just failed a state inspection. He had dropped out of the office Super Bowl pool because he had already lost $31.50 during the playoffs and didn’t think he had the luck to pick the winner.

Can’t find his story online anywhere, will keep looking.

Update: Found it in our internal archive. Will see if someone can pub it somewhere. Romenesko could like it. For now, an excerpt:

On the way home, I was over-the-edge careful. I barely reached 50 on the 55-mph highways. With the ticket tucked in my shirt pocket, I spent more than an hour driving the 38 miles from my office to home. And my wife, B.J., wasn’t there.

I still had not told a soul. I felt ready to burst.

B.J. arrived about 30 minutes after I got home. When I told her we won, she shrieked and acted just like one of those people on the Publishers Clearing House commercials.

Why the L.A. Times is my favorite obit paper

My declaration of this a week or two ago greatly amused friend Dave. Now, as the NYT boasts of the 1,200 obits staffers keep in the can, I must make my point for the LAT. What the LAT seems to care about all the time — and what the NYT seems to only care about sometimes — is the relatable human element. In LAT obituaries, a detail may not be a great achievement or milestone in a person’s noteworthy life. A detail may just show how a noteworthy life modestly included a person.

On Rose Friedman, wife/collaborator: “Until Milton Friedman’s death in 2006 at 94, the two were rarely apart; they frequently held hands at academic conferences and in airports. She often had a more fiery public presence than the gentle style of her husband. Milton Friedman often said his wife was the only person who won arguments with him.”

On Ed Reimers, whose cupped hands stood for Allstate: “After a hurricane, flood or other national disaster, ‘he’d fly in, and they’d do their commercials,’ [his daughter] said. ‘I have pictures of him in a trench coat setting up and interviewing people, with the whole place sort of demolished around him.’ ”

On Karla Kushkin, children’s author and illustrator: “At 4, she dictated her first poem, about a hydrangea bush outside their country house, to her mother.  ¶  Her father owned a small advertising agency.”

On Riccardo Cassin, the Italian mountaineer: “Cassin left home at age 17 to work the bellows at a blacksmith forge in Lecco, a small Italian valley village nestled near the southeastern neck of Lake Como. His first passion had been boxing, but on the weekends, Cassin accompanied his ragtag group of friends that called themselves the ‘Ragni Di Lecco,’ or spiders of Lecco, on climbing trips to the smaller local 7,000-foot summits.”

On Carlene Hutchins, master violin maker: “She insisted that the secret to their superior sound was not in the wood; not, as some experts speculated, in the bacteria that ate away at the wood, making it more permeable; not in the powdery pumice from Mount Vesuvius that Stradivari may or may not have used to thicken his varnish; and most certainly not in some mystical genius that only he and the other old Cremona masters possessed.”

On Eleutherius Winance, an abbey founder: “A few years after arriving in Valyermo, Winance began to cultivate a garden using found or donated plants, including roses, herbs, cactuses, poplars and giant sequoias. He laid out the carpet of grass by hand, beginning with one square of sod from the abbey’s pastures.”

The man deserves a better obit

I write this half for love of obituaries and half for love of orangutans.

We need a rule. When the AP uses the word “some” in the lede, you deserve a better obit. Like: “John Quade, who played the heavy in some Clint Eastwood movies and was the sheriff in the television mini-series Roots, died on Aug. 9 at his home in the Southern California desert town of Rosamond,” AP writes. NYT runs the obit at six grafs.

A.V. Club, meanwhile, gives two more reasons for a better obit. This line: “His most famous roles, naturally, were as ‘heavies’ in westerns like High Plains Drifter and The Outlaw Josey Wales, and he squared off against Clint Eastwood again as motorcycle gang leader ‘Cholla’ in the famed trucker-orangutan love stories Every Which Way But Loose and Any Which Way You Can.” And this line: “As he more or less retired from his acting career in the 1990s, Quade became an increasingly outspoken opponent of the U.S. government and a figurehead of the anti-New World Order movement, giving frequent lectures on the Constitution and, common law, and what he saw as the dangers of being forced to register for drivers’ licenses and Social Security cards.”

Is everyone going to get behind that cause? Including his call for the repeal of the 14th Amendment? Heck no. But should his politics plus orangutan movies make for a complex life and interesting obituary? Yes. The LAT, the country’s best obit paper, lets me down this time.

Highlights of the Oscar Mayer death coverage

Media critics have all compared the Jackson coverages, so why can’t we do the same with Oscar Mayer? Ever since I learned my beloved Caesar salad was named after someone not Julius C., I’ve had a soft spot for real people who’ve shared their names with products. So…

Best Oscar Mayer death story: Wisconsin State Journal.

After leaving Harvard University for health reasons, Mayer joined the family business in its Chicago accounting office in 1936.

“There were three accountants in the office and I was the flunky, making out payroll accounts by hand,” he said. “I’ve always felt I might have a little better understanding of what people in our plant have to do because I did it myself — I’ve always seen our employees as individuals and I respect the hard work they do.”

Best evidence there are more Oscar Mayers: Coverage was clear this Oscar Mayer — while the one most responsible for the company’s modern success — was the third Oscar Mayer to run the company. But Legacy’s formal obituary turns up a few more to cheer: his son Oscar, his grandson Oscar and his great-grandson Oscar.

Best headline: “Meats His Maker” from who else but the New York Post. Best pop culture tribute: “Six Classic Oscar Mayer Wiener Commercials” from the Daily Beast. Best sidebar: “What other products were named for real people?” I had no idea about Mrs. Fields or Duncan Hines.

Best post-death rumor coverage: “TMZ: No Weinermobile at services for Oscar Meyer,” from USAT’s Drive On community (full disclosure: my team at work helps run the community), because it contained the best take on the rumor: “Too bad. When Carl Karcher, founder of the Carl’s Jr. chain in the West that now also runs Hardee’s, died, his services included free hamburgers for everybody. Heck, if Drive On were to kick the bucket, we’d be wanted to be buried in the Weinermobile. ”

Best post-death controversy: PETA wanting to bury the Weinermobile.

Best memorial: “Remembering My Days as a Hotdogger,” looking at the company’s ethic, from a man whose first job out of college was driving the Wienermobile. “On my first day, upon landing in Madison, Wis. (home of the WMB corporate headquarters), all of the hotdoggers were greeted at the airport gate by Oscar Mayer executives…”

Best consistent mistake: “Weinermobile” instead of “wienermobile” in USAT, NPR and Time. Best resulting discovery: Wienermobile blog.

The typewriter men of their respective cities

I sent typewriter-mad Lindsay the link to the New York Times obit for “Martin K. Tytell, Typewriter Wizard.” Best obit I read last week.

When he retired in 2000, Mr. Tytell had practiced his recently vanishing craft for 70 years. For most of that time, he rented, repaired, rebuilt, reconfigured and restored typewriters in a second-floor shop at 116 Fulton Street in Lower Manhattan, where a sign advertised “Psychoanalysis for Your Typewriter.”

There, at the Tytell Typewriter Company, he often worked seven days a week wearing a white lab coat and a bow tie, catering to customers like the writers Dorothy Parker and Richard Condon, the newsmen David Brinkley and Harrison Salisbury, and the political opponents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Adlai E. Stevenson. Letters addressed only to “Mr. Typewriter, New York” arrived there, too.

Mr. Tytell worked on typewriters that could reproduce dozens of different alphabets appropriate for as many as 145 different languages and dialects — including Farsi and Serbo-Croatian, Thai and Korean, Coptic and Sanskrit, and ancient and modern Greek. He often said that he kept 2 million typefaces in stock.

She responded with a story on Steve Kazmierski, the typewriter wizard of Chicago, who tells New City Chicago that he doesn’t know how to type. “I never met a typewriter man that knew how to type,” he says. But even if he has a site, he says typing on computers is worse.

Computers I hate. Oh yeah, ’cause you get in trouble with the computers. That’s why everyone has much problems. The computers. Don’t you know the problems we are having? With the teenagers. They get in and they deal with narcotics and they buy narcotics. They steal the banks from the people. They cheat people. On computers! That’s why I don’t trust computers … Computers do nothing. People have to do it.

Computers are nothing. People have to do it.

Beyond Shaft

Hot Buttered Soul is the reason you buy a stereo. Even if you don’t know the album when you buy that stereo, you make the purchase with the idea this kind of music exists somewhere in the universe.

The Isaac Hayes obits are only going to give the album a few lines, the same as his co-writing credits on Soul Man and Hold On, I’m Coming. But music and the arts always seem to bring out the oddness in obits that way. The style leads with the facts as the cumulative case for a full life and subverts the passion that brought the person’s towering achievements and grace notes. Music exposes weakness here.

The art works on a canvas that goes pitch dark when silent, and the requirement to consolidate your expression — even if Walk On By runs a glorious 12 minutes — turns the recording details into footnotes.

Surveying the course of a life, the same model seems appropriate to consider, putting the relative footnotes in their place and interpreting passions as we may have lived but never concisely expressed them.

To have expressed them … that’s why you end up on the front page. That’s why the people buying the stereos find themselves wishing the sound field would cross whichever room needs the soul, day or night.

Close personal relationships with Mavis Beacon, Tina Louise

Obit of the week, in case you haven’t read it: Les Crane, who’d somehow eluded my pop culture radar while alive. First real challenger to Johnny Carson. One-time husband of Tina Louise. Creator of Mavis Beacon. Grammy-winner for a much-parodied spoken word recording. Bonus in the NYT version: Air Force jet pilot.

Not planning to blog about Reno until I get home this weekend and offload some photos, but I couldn’t start my day today with noting the obits. All Crane seemingly missed was elected office and a major sport. Double bonus: Mavis Beacon, not a real person (via Wikipedia). Triple bonus: Best reference in years.

Jim: How many words per minute does the average person type?
Pam: I type 90.
Jim: Shut up. Mavis Beacon doesn’t even type 90.

And now … a list of extended Office quotes. Off to start the Reno day.

A wedding and death

This content run begins, as it sometimes does, with The Morning News.

If you read one published item this week, read Paul Ford’s “How to Say I Love You.” The mind behind Gary Benchley and Harper’s thin-slicing returns to TMN after too long an absence with 100 ways to say what the article’s title promises. “(29) In the late 19th century you cut her name into the cornfields, hoping someone would invent the airplane.”

Not knowing Paul Ford — I almost wrote “Gary Benchley” just now — the piece left me with a distinct but uncomfirmed impression, so I went Googling. The results took me to the New York Times archives, working in cached form, and a turn-of-the-century lede of amazing proportions.

Malcolm W. Ford, the athlete and magazine writer, yesterday morning murdered his brother, Paul Leicester Ford, the invalid and novelist. Malcolm W. Ford was insane, according to the testimony of those who knew him best. Members of his family say he had been partially demented some time, but that there appeared to be no reason for confining him in an asylum.

I was immediately, completely distracted.

Malcolm W. Ford left his home, 207 West Fifty-sixth Street, at a little before 9. He had eaten breakfast with his son in the high chair sitting opposite to him. Ford was divorced from his wife, but the courts had given him custody of the child. The little fellow at the breakfast table told of boys he knew who had mothers, and asked where his was. His father told him that he might see her very soon. Malcolm W. Ford, Jr., was persistent, and wanted to know how soon. His father begged him not to ask again, and said that when he returned home he would bring him a toy. He kissed the boy good-by, and then started for the elevator. He turned back, kissed the boy again, and told him never to think ill of his father. Getting into the elevator, he remarked to the man who runs it that it was an unusually fine morning, and that the better day the better the deed.

A murder followed, the “deformed,” “cripple” author falling from his revolving chair into the arms of his stenographer as his deranged brother put the pistol between his own fingers over his own heart and became a suicide.

To add to the misery of the mourning family, in the early evening newsboys carrying great bundles of newspapers ran up and down the street crying out the news of the tragedy, and selling their papers to a great crowd which gathered before the residence. Mr. Kidder appealed to the police over the telephone for protection and Capt. Brown sent several policemen to clear the block of the idly curious crowd and the newsboys with their shrill cries of “extra.”

The story finished shortly afterward, as the day in 1902 ended. Google’s cache then yielded the obituaries for the author and his brother, the athlete. The obit for the author glowed about his house, which he had planned himself and his father-in-law had built.

Mr. Ford superintended every detail of the building, he and his wife taking the greatest pride in it. Simplicity inside and outside was the spirit of the designer. The house, which is four stories in height, is in the style of the Renaissance, with an English basement. On the first floor is the drawing room, which occupies almost the whole floor, there being but two partitions forming alcoves. … There is a mezzanine floor with a billiard room and above it the library where yesterday’s tragedy occurred. It is a splendid big room, almost square. It is illuminated by a skylight and the walls are covered with books, and here and there a favorite picture of the author. It is one of the oldest and most valuable libraries in New York. Above the library are the living rooms.

A separate piece highlighted the siblings’ contributions to the world, but another article looked at “The Troubles in the Ford Family.” It seemed the family looked down on Malcolm’s athletics, sweaty and public competitions sullying a family of taste and letters. They even testified against him when he sued for a share of their father’s will, a will that had left him nothing. Elsewhere in the murder coverage, a column or editorial shared fond memories of only the author.

But the archives weren’t done yet. As days passed, news came that the author had used his last breaths to forgive his brother. The family was to bury them in the same grave, with services preceding in the author’s house, bloodied but loved. The author’s widow, pregnant, was said to have recovered from the shock. The athlete’s widow took custody of her son, the breakfasting boy. She later remarried.

Ninety-six years later, in February 1998, the Times wrote about the author’s house again. The real estate column wrote about plans for the building as developers gutted it.

But, yes, Paul Ford, the young and alive Paul Ford, got married this September. Random stumbling found that out. In a daily list of links, a blogger who may or may not have known Ford — I couldn’t tell — linked to Flickr pictures of the party favors from the wedding. The description explained it all.

Party favors as folk art. Finger puppets created by Wilma Yocom Ford as place settings for the wedding of Mo Flaherty and Paul Ford, September 15, 2007, in Brooklyn, New York. Some made with old lace from Mo’s grandmother and stones that belonged to Paul’s grandfather. Guests waved them in the air during the toasts; now they are flown with the guests around the world.

It took roughly one hour and thirty minutes to make each puppet — 225 hours spread over eight months.

See the puppets, worlds within themselves.

The gallery has a link to Ford’s Ftrain post about his wedding. His blog is I guess the obvious place to look for this kind of news, but if you don’t mind getting there in a roundabout way — and you’re here, aren’t you? — neither do I. Congratulations to a guy I don’t know but who sure makes my Internet run in amazing directions.

"Real gentleman passes away"

That’s the headline. It’s the kind of obit you hope you get. Maybe the writing isn’t going to win a Pulitzer, but the feeling gets you across. You come out well.

“An Officer and a Gentleman” was a box office hit several years ago. That was Hollywood.

In reality, a man who truly fit the description of an Officer and a Gentleman had retired just a few years earlier from a military career that was at the least described as outstanding.

Russell E. Dougherty was the epitome of an officer and a gentleman. But unlike Hollywood he fit the description with integrity and humility.

Dougherty, a Barren County native, died Sept. 7.

His accomplishments and accolades could fill page after page. While accomplished in so many arenas of life, he never forgot his Kentucky roots and his beloved Glasgow.

That’s Glasgow, Ky. Rest the rest from the Glasgow Daily Times.

Three good MLB obits and a two-parter from shock trauma

With the Bonds coverage peaking and ebbing, baseball — for me — has developed a surprising streak of good stories about life and loss. With lots of character. Which comes across better in the stories than in those terms.

The New York Times on the death of Phil Rizzuto.

Stopping for a meal in Richmond, Rizzuto was served grits for the first time.

“I didn’t know what to do with them, so I put them in my pocket,” he said.

A mistreated left leg injury during his stint in Virginia — he had stepped in a gopher hole — nearly led to amputation. Or maybe it didn’t, depending on how Rizzuto told the tale. “They had to cut part of the muscle out of my leg because it was infested with gangrene,” he said, “and actually that was a break for me because I used to be so fast when I was a kid, I’d run by the ground balls, and this slowed me just enough so that I could make the ball.”

The Baltimore Sun on the death of William “Wild Bill” Hagy.

William “Wild Bill” Hagy started out as just another Orioles fan from Dundalk who loved his Budweiser in Section 34 of the upper deck at Memorial Stadium.

But with his sloping gut, fluffy beard and straw hat, he cut a striking visual. And eventually his O-R-I-O-L-E-S cheers, replete with dramatic contortions of his out-of-shape body, became the emotional fulcrum as crowds at Memorial urged the baseball team to improbable comebacks in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

An obit to any Hershiser fan from way back.

B. Webb (W, 14-8) 7.0 5 2 2 1 5 0 2.63

The injury report, hours into Dave Trembley’s service at the managerial helm of the Baltimore Orioles, part one.

In Game 1 of yesterday’s doubleheader, the Orioles were battered by a team that kept batting around. They surrendered six home runs, two of them grand slams, and a club-record 29 hits. They also gave up the most runs scored in the majors since 1900, historic indiscretions that punctuated a 30-3 loss to the Texas Rangers before a sparse but wildly entertained gathering at Camden Yards.

There’s no exaggerating how long it has been since baseball has seen this kind of offensive display. The 30 runs scored are the fourth most in major league history. The Chicago Colts (now the Cubs) defeated the Louisville Royals, 36-7, in 1897. No American League team has surpassed the Rangers’ output, with the Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox totaling 29 in 1950 and 1955, respectively.

The injury report, part two, in which things could have been worse.

Once, managing Magallanes in Venezuela, Trembley was paid weekly in cash, $9,000 in all, which he quickly stuffed in every mattress and sofa cushion in his apartment. “The last week of the season, I found the whole place ransacked. They got everything,” Trembley said. He went to the U.S. Consulate to tell his sad story. “Instead, they told me, ‘Sir, you are lucky. The same banditos robbed the woman who lived in the apartment right above you. But they killed her.”

Managing Navajoa in the Mexican Pacific League, Trembley received from his owner a tiny Volkswagen, with writing that looked like advertising on the side.

“Just going down the road, people would throw vegetables and apples at me. I got hit in the head with a tomato. Always after we lost, it seemed like,” said Trembley, who went to his boss after his tires were slashed. “He told me, ‘Those aren’t ads on the side of your car. It says, ‘This car is driven by the manager of Navajoa.’ “

Good luck to Mr. Trembley in Baltimore.