The Last ‘Writes’ Are Important
My first job at this newspaper was writing obituaries. I also clipped newspaper stories for all the reporters and editors and kept files that were used extensively by everyone in the newsroom and higher ups.
I was proud of the work I did because often the only time a person’s name appeared in the newspaper was when they died. I quickly learned how important it was and still is to give each person an accurate obituary.
In the early days of my job on the obit desk, there were none of the modern conveniences of emails and texts. Everything was done one-on-one with the funeral directors. They would call and dictate obits to me or bring in a typewritten paper that I would then re-type into a word processing program.
I was also fortunate to have several copy editors who made sure I was doing my job to the best of my ability. In other words, they would catch a misspelled word or add a comma where necessary. The late Bill Bibb was one such person who admonished me loudly for my incorrect spelling of Cincinnati. He finally stuck a Post-It note with the city’s name on my desk and urged me to never remove it!
Obituaries that appear in a newspaper are pieces of written history. They are valuable resources for someone researching his or her ancestry. Our local libraries have back copies of the newspapers to help people search for relatives from long ago.
As you can imagine, I developed a great rapport with the funeral directors and their staffs. I admired how well they handled such a delicate task when dealing with families in mourning. That’s not to say they didn’t have a sense of humor when needed to overcome some really tough situations.
We are fortunate in this valley to have numerous family-operated funeral homes with several generations of service to their communities. I was witness to seeing some of the elders — Jim Altmeyer, John Kepner, Charlie Wilson, to name a few — pass on the traditions of the business to children and grandchildren.
Over the 41 years of my full-time work at the News-Register and The Intelligencer, I wrote hundreds of obituaries. Sometimes I would be called on by my editors to write a feature obituary story on a number of prominent people in the community. I found these to be among the most difficult tasks of my entire career.
I’ve written obits for family members, friends and strangers. And with every keystroke, I prayed I would do each of them the justice they deserved,
As I write this column, I learned that one of my best buddies — John Nanny — has just passed away. John was a bigger than life person, a proud Marine veteran and a friend to many in the Ohio Valley.
When you read his obituary, you will learn much more about him than I can tell you in this space. Just know that I believe he will leave a void very hard to fill. I can only offer you my words now — rest in peace, my friend.
Heather Ziegler can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.