Obituaries offering insight into lives of departed

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 14, 2009


I read obituaries, not just those appearing in this newspaper, but from across the country. It is a habit I got into years ago when my Daddy would start his day by driving into town to pick up the Memphis Commercial Appeal and the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. Daddy was one of those cover-to-cover readers, but he always took time to comment on the obituaries.

They, as well as Mississippi’s license plates, helped me know the state’s 82 counties by the time I started school.

As Daddy would read the obit, he would tell me where the town was that the person had lived, the name of the county, the county seat and what part of the state. Keep in mind that I was too young to know northeast from southwest, but it was just one of the many educational processes my sister and I went through with Mom and Dad.

Then, as now, Mississippi has the names of the counties on its license plates — and we pretty much repeated the process with them as we had done with the obits.

To this day, my favorite obituary is from a gentleman who died while I worked at the Standard-Times in San Angelo, Texas. It began, “A mighty tree fell in God’s forest on …” and went on to list the specifics of the time of death, etc. I’ve always pictured that gentleman as stately, with good posture … all because of a picture painted by a few well-chosen words.

In Wednesday’s S-T, there was an obituary on a gentleman named Alvin Torres. Mr. Torres would have turned 60 on Friday and was described in his obituary as, “… a very hard working, loyal, honest, caring, and loving man. He married his best friend Ofelia Minjarez on Nov. 10, 1973. Alvin raised two boys, Billy Wayne Torres and Ruben Casey Torres, who have grown into fine men with their father’s qualities instilled in them. He felt very blessed that he had three beautiful granddaughters that were his angels …”

What a tribute! Yes, a family member wrote it but read the love and respect in those words. I’ll bet Mr. Torres was one of those folks you’d go to war with and he would always have your back.

In Wednesday’s Clarion-Ledger, there was an obituary for a Mr. Warren Harrison Blake of Pocahontas, Miss. Now, Pocahontas is not much more than a wide spot in the road on U.S. 49 between Jackson and Yazoo City, but it’s home to those who live there. Apparently, they thought enough of Mr. Blake that he was referred to as the “unofficial mayor of Pocahontas”.

I have an aunt — Aunt Mary — who is still very much among the living but whose obituary, when her time comes, will surely read that she was the unofficial mayor of Taylorsville, Miss.

There are some obituaries that are more sad and distressing than others.

Here’s one I came across regarding a 79-year-old woman named Delores Aguilar, who died in Vallejo, Calif. It seemed so far-fetched that I did further research and found that had actually talked with the daughter who placed it and an editor at the newspaper that published it.

It read, in part:  “Dolores had no hobbies, made no contribution to society and rarely shared a kind word or deed in her life. I speak for the majority of her family when I say her presence will not be missed by many, very few tears will be shed and there will be no lamenting over her passing.”

That was the nice part about Delores, and the wording conjures up an image of a horned beast with forked tail.

Back in West Texas, I recall the time we ran an obit about a World War II vet who died homeless and without survivors. At the graveside service, there were several of us from the newspaper, folks from the hospital and law enforcement and a couple of ministers. I guess we all felt no one should leave without a good-bye.

What will your obituary say? Will it read like that of Mr. Torres or will it be more like Ms. Aguilar’s. No, it’s not one of those things we think about while we’re alive,  but even in death, there are things that influence the way people continue to think of us.

(John H. Walker is editor and publisher of L’Observateur and may be reached at (985) 652-9545 or at