Skimming through the Obits and life
The obituary section of the old more informed newspaper era was an obsession with my father back in the 1950s and 1960s. Today, the newspapers are anorexic but the Obit section is still growing strong. And, I understand why my father paid attention to it so much now that I am older
Des Plaines Valley, Southwest News-Herald, The Regional News, The Reporter Newspapers Dec. 22-16
By Ray Hanania
Every Sunday as a kid in the 1960s, my dad would have me go outside and grab the newspaper.
I don’t remember which paper it was, there were so many back then in Chicago.
I’d bring it in and he would divvy it up to everyone in the family.
The sports section went to my older brother. The entertainment and society sections went to my mom. My younger sister and I grabbed the comic strips.
Dad skimmed the news, ignored the editorials, read a few “Letters to the Editor,” but always lingered on the Obituary Section.
I always wondered why he spent so much time reading the obits, until the other day when I was watching the news and heard that Florence Henderson had died.
Carol Brady, who Henderson played on “The Brady Bunch,” was basically a surrogate mom for millions of kids across America, including for me. Her death stunned me.
The Obit Section doesn’t mean much to young people, but for those of us getting into the older years, it’s the barometer of our lives.
In the past few years, I have seen so many people I knew or identified with die. Not just celebrities, but friends, too.
A few weeks ago, Gary Miller, a longtime journalist at the Lawndale News passed away. Miller would visit or call every week going back years, talking about advertising, press releases and “the news.”
He looked so damn healthy, about my age, when he died of a heart attack. I went to his funeral. He just didn’t look the same. I knew only a few of the many family and friends who attended the wake. It reminded me how much more there is to other people’s lives.
It also reminded me why I am so fortunate to be a writer. I thank Reavis High school for that. We all have great stories to tell that should be documented and shared. But we don’t all write them down. We should. I’ll bet Miller saw a lot of great things during his lifetime.
Another friend I met back in 1978 during my first few weeks as a cub reporter at the old Southtown Economist Newspaper was Ed McElroy, who also passed, too, at 91.
The editor who hired me, H. Marlin Landwehr, introduced us. I remember the first time I shook McElroy’s hand at Landwehr’s desk in the newsroom.
“I’m Ed McElroy,” he barked with a firm handshake. Red-faced Irish, ebullient and always smiling, McElroy offered me tickets to see the White Sox. I thanked him and turned them down explaining I’m a Cubs fan.
I recall many Christmas parties at his Oak Lawn home and the wall of photos in his family room; I was so impressed as a City Hall reporter I also hung framed autographed pictures of mayors, congressmen and presidents I covered, too.
After his death, everyone claimed to know him and they all shared his stories. McElroy was that kind of guy.
So many people from my generation are knocking off faster than I can keep tabs. The newspaper’s today are not like the newspapers of my dad’s generation. They just can’t keep up either.
Another major influence in my life died recently. Astronaut John Glenn. Glenn helped us crawl out of our bomb shelters after the Soviets sent Sputnik into space. It scared the hell out of Americans. Glenn’s spaceship “Friendship 7” circled the Earth in 1962 and reminded us that as big as we think we are, we’re just a small spec of dust in a boundless universe that continues to grow.
Robert Vaughn, the Man from Uncle, died this year, and so did singer Bobby Vee, comedian Gene Wilder, actress Patty Duke, TV producer Garry Marshall (Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, Mork and Mindy and so many more 70s hits), and Boxing champion Muhammad Ali, who I met while working as a bagger at Jewel at 87th and Stony Island in 1968. Ali’s bodyguard Salameh Hassan’s sister Saluka was a close friend of my family.
I wish I could list them all. They all meant so much to me and to so many others.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and political columnist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)