Why all the old jokes about unlucky newspaper people being condemned to the obituary desk? I can understand when the job is simply one of mere hackery. But the best obituaries are like polished feature stories. Fascinated by the genre, I even began The Solomon Scandals with an obit mention.
Not everyone makes the news sections of the obit pages in metropolitan newspapers, however, and even the families of the famous may want deaths written up their way, in paid death notices.
Sure enough, paid death notices appeared for Robert H. Smith, the multimillionaire D.C. developer who died on December 29, 2009, and whose builder father, Charles, was one of the inspirations for the Solomon figure in my book. In keeping with the spirit of our age, the notice appeared not just in print but also at Legacy.com via ties with the Washington Post and New York Times. So far, the accompanying guest book for Smith has drawn just six entries, including one from a Pollin family. Related to Abe Pollin, the late sports tycoon, who died November 24? Either way, just where are hordes of the VIPs who signed other Smith-related documents—real estate partnership papers? Perhaps, due to age, many of those still alive are uncomfortable about going online.
I visited the Pollin guestbook, too, and found 22 entries just for Nov. 25-26, with the total reaching 77 as of this writing. The larger number in the days immediately following his death may have resulted from more publicity about his passing, given his prominence as owner of the Washington Wizards. By contrast, at least off-hours and in retirement, Smith focused on the less popular fields of arts and higher education; and in fact an arts-oriented appreciation has appeared from the Washington City Paper.
Meanwhile I’ve done a count for an obscure Washington woman named Brenda Jordan, a featured name in the Washington Post’s death notice area online. She died on December 22 and drew 25 notices between December 26 and December 29. Her count is now up to 39.
Update, 8:37 p.m., January 2, 2009: “Six” includes Bruce Boucher’s entry from January 2, 2010; the others are all from December 31. I’ll now stop counting.