Little ‘Bits

by minton on July 20, 2021

Growing up, one of my friends was the son of a mortician. He’s now the leader of The Ted Vaughn Blues Band. We were trumpet buddies in the band, and made jokes about everything, including his Dad’s ghoulish profession.

Years later, I was sitting in on an Honors Math and Art class listening to film maker Vanessa Gould discuss her documentary on the world of origami (Between the Folds) and her more recent documentary on The New York Times obituary writers (Obit). The subject of obituary writers struck me as ghoulish and probably boring, but Ms. Gould was wonderful in class and so I dutifully watched Obit … and loved it!

The writers who were profiled, a couple of whom were fairly eccentric, had the challenging task of hastily throwing together online research and phone interviews to produce a faithful and interesting summary of a person’s life work. In the process, they invariably developed an admiration for and even love for their subjects. Although I had never thought of my own work as obituary-related, this is exactly what I had been trying to do with pieces for the department newsletter and blog.

A November 2014 blog article on Al Bayse illustrates the pleasure in writing such articles. I knew nothing about Bayse other than a rumor that one of our graduates had become an assistant director of the FBI. I got some information courtesy of College Archivist Linda Miller, and then stumbled onto several online (recently declassified) descriptions of Bayse’s work and personality. It all fit together into a cohesive picture of a highly successful and likable man. The published article prompted comments from relatives and co-workers that further cemented our “friendship” and capped a great experience.

Much to my surprise, it turns out that I enjoy writing obituaries, intimate reflections on life that try to do honor to a friend. However, I much prefer doing such pieces on the living (e.g., graduating seniors)! Check out Vanessa Gould’s documentary Obit and the podcast Mobituaries for interesting takes on the obituary. The book Obit by Jim Sheeler has several wonderful little life stories. Here’s a short list of my pieces on the deceased and living.
Al Bayse; Bob Hudson; Emery Wade; Bill Brubaker; Dick Minnix; Jane Ingram; Jeff Spielman; Bill Ergle;
Eric Lee; Megan Wheeler; Agnes Handal; David Moreau; Emma Blair