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Obituaries capture personalities of the dearly departed

SHARE Obituaries capture personalities of the dearly departed

It's hard to say where the first obituary came from. The word comes from the Medieval Latin "obitus," which means a going down, a fall, a ruin, a death.

But obituaries have pretty much always been linked with news.

After the popularization of the printing press in the 1500s, concise death notices began appearing in printed papers. Most contained just the basic facts: name, birth and death dates, cause of death, family who survived and family who died earlier.

In the late 1800s, the editor of The Times of London, John Thadeus Delane, saw great value in the publication of obituaries and thought they should be more than brief announcements. As a result, the obituaries published in his paper were often long and elaborate, containing biographies, short prayers, poems and more.

It is that tradition that always interested Wm. James Mortimer, former reporter, former publisher of the Deseret News and longtime obituary collector, who died this month.

"I was a reporter back when the paper was on the third floor of the office on Richards Street. Maxine Martz, Lou Bate and I sometimes worked on the obit desk. They were the ones that turned me on to it. We always looked for funny things, words and phrases that showed up. The first one to spot something had to share it."

In those days, obituaries were written by reporters from standard fact sheets supplied by the families and mortuaries.

In 1959, Mortimer was asked to take over leadership of the Deseret Press, a book publishing subsidiary of the company. "So for several years, I didn't have much to do with obituaries. I'd read them from time to time and looked for interesting things," he said. But it was not until 1985, when he came back to the Deseret News as publisher, that he got back into it again.

When the paper discontinued the practice of having reporters write obituaries and began to print them pretty much as they were submitted by families, they got a lot more interesting, said Mortimer.

It was relaxing to read over the obituaries at the end of the day. He'd look for quirky facts and unusual phrases, humorous accounts, messages and lessons to be learned, and other things that made the person unique.

It was not done in the spirit of making fun of either the deceased or the obituary writer, he said. It was more a desire to enjoy the things that gave those people their individual character, that showed how fun it would have been to know those people.

It's sometimes sad, he said, that we have to wait until people die to get to know them better. "But I've enjoyed sharing a continuing sense of humor, the personality, the feeling of what was important to these people that I didn't even know."

He "met" people "who were creative to the last word" as well as people who made him think "how I wouldn't want to be remembered."

As other people learned about Mortimer's collection, they would frequently say, "Here's one you've missed," or they would ask for the "obituary of the day."

As Mortimer's health declined in recent years, he thought more and more about obituaries, and, in fact, wrote his own, which, sadly appeared in the paper following his death on May 20, the day, he noted, that his "lifetime warranty" expired and he returned to his maker. "Deseret Jim," as he was sometimes called because of his involvement with so many Deseret companies, hoped to be remembered for his work and service, but more importantly, as "a husband, a parent and a valiant Child of God."


are some of the favorite snippets from the other obituaries in his collection:

On the lighter side

No one could tell a joke like you. You would turn inside out before you ever got to the punch line. Your wonderful sense of humor and your throaty laugh — that would sometimes culminate in wet underwear, but beautiful and lacy and tasteful underwear. Your "Butter and Egg Man" rendition with "The Donald" will be ever present in my visions and memories of you.

She chose the nickname "MaDe" to help her grandchildren know which grandma they were talking about. However, she refused to let the kids refer to grandpa as "PaDe" (for obvious reasons).

Driving was not her strong suit. She took up two lanes and got tickets for going 20 mph down freeways. The one time she was stopped for speeding, she looked up at the officer — before he waved her on — and said, "Weinstock's is having a sale!"

He always said his age was 34 because, although he was 77, his teeth were new.

He loved his children and called them his "Pearls of Great Price." He said he didn't understand the "great price" part until they became teenagers.

If he was here for us to ask, "What should we do, Dad?" the answer would be predictable: "Don't call me a Do-Dad."

Pleasures of life

May the Lord grant Mom peace (and a place to swim).

He enjoyed a good book, a BYU game, short prayers and anything with raisins.

She has often said, "I just know Heaven cannot be perfect unless it has root beer and spaghetti sauce."

She leaves behind numerous special nieces and nephews as well as friends. Also, the cast and crew of her daily ABC soap operas, "Port Charles," "All My Children," "One Life to Live" and "General Hospital."

John had natural ability and could walk on his hands almost better than his feet.

Preceded in death by an Oldsmobile Cutlass.

In their own words

I used to get up every morning and read the obituaries to see if I was still alive. Imagine my surprise this morning when I discovered I had slipped away from my family, friends and all my favorite places.

Ironic, huh? The first time my pic's run in the paper in years, and I'm not around to clip the obit. Tough! I was called up by heart trouble, cancer, diabetes, etc. — elderly man stuff. But few have had a more delightful time on Earth than I.

If my body were a car, I would trade it in for a newer model. I've got bumps, dents and scratches. My paint job is dull and my headlights are out of focus and it's hard to see. It takes me hours to reach maximum speed. But the worst of all — every time I sneeze, cough or sputter, either my radiator leaks or my exhaust backfires.

Life lessons

I owe my success in life to poverty, as it has been my greatest teacher.

A career drinker for 25 years, he ran many an event and skied many a run on a hangover, but lo and behold, joined AA and stopped drinking at age 40.

At her passing, she had over 50 pounds of butter in her freezer, probably due to the war rations under which she lived.

Mickey died from lung disease. Last week, she said, "That's what 60 years of smoking will do for you."

Lorin was always heard saying to friends and strangers alike, "My wife made two things better than anyone else: peach cobbler and babies."

One of his duties while serving in the military was acting as supply sergeant, where he came to appreciate order and precision. This trait got him in a bit of trouble after marrying Marlene, when he made the mistake of requesting that the sheets be perfectly ironed before being placed on the bed. That didn't go over too well, and he learned to live with wrinkled sheets.

She taught the gospel throughout her life and used words when needed.

Remember me

She played a part in getting the high school a skeleton so the students could study the bones of the body.

As Lee always promised, his famous salsa recipe will FINALLY be revealed (at the funeral).

The bank employees will miss you. Those behind you on the highway, maybe not.

Grandma will always be remembered for her persistence and her willingness to play the slot machines in Wendover all night long.

Her potato salad was a hit at the Beesley Christmas open house for over 40 years. Orabell's Potato Salad: Cook, cool and dice 5 lbs. potatoes. Mix with the following: 2 C Miracle Whip, 1 C milk, 3 tsp mustard, 2 tsp salt, 2 Tbl sugar, 2 boiled eggs chopped, 1 small bottle chopped pimento, 2 tsp celery seed. Best made the day before. Enjoy!

He described himself as "vertically challenged, advanced middle aged, man of scalp."

Remember me is all I ask, and if remembrance be a task … forget me.

People you'd like to know

She was born in a log cabin that leaked so badly her sister Velma had to hold an umbrella over the bed during her birth.

She loved butter so much that she had her own butter dish at each of her family members' homes. She loved to drive her Cadillac but refused to pump her own gas.

He started working in the mines in his junior year of high school to help support the family. He would sometimes run from the mines to the high school football field where the team would circle around him so he could change into his football uniform.

Everyone at his office knew about his famous "cuss bucket," in which you had to deposit a coin every time you said a cuss word. Every year at Thanksgiving, Stan and his co-workers would empty the jar and would go to the grocery store and buy as many Thanksgiving turkeys as they could fit into the car to take to the Utah Food Bank.

Helen's personality was "larger-than-life." She wore flamboyant outfits, had a fantastic sense of humor and positive attitude. She cherished animals and Mother Nature in any form. In this age of computers, Helen's beautiful penmanship truly set her apart.

During World War II, he joined the Naval Air Corps and received his commission as a dive bomber pilot. The war ended the day he arrived in the Pacific theater. "The enemy heard I was coming and quit!"

Now Grant was an excellent Dad,

Pollution and war made him mad.

He was funny and kind

With a quick-witted mind,

Cute girls and bow ties made him glad.

A position for ambassador opened up in heaven and "Duck" was the best candidate.


Occasionally, typos, misspellings and wrong words creep in, as the man who was "venerated by his pears," the man who "retired as a Colonial" in the Army, the man who "operated a pure bread Jersey farm" and the woman who was "a loving wife, mother and fiend."

Sad stories

Dad was an ornery old goat to the end.

Larkin Mortuary sincerely apologizes for the delay in running Abel's obituary. We hope this has not caused anyone to miss Abel's funeral.

If anyone knows any family members of Julio's, please call Art's Place.

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. … At the end of the day, ALL of us will really only miss what we never had, a good and kind mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. I hope she is finally at peace with herself. … There will be no service, no prayers and no closure for the family she spent a lifetime tearing apart. We cannot come together in the end.

Last requests

As he requested long ago, there will be no funeral. And instead of flowers, take a nice walk with your family and friends and look for golf balls and other treasures.

Florence requests that you vote Democratic in November. Rumors that she voted in the Democratic primary shortly after her death are unconfirmed.

In lieu of flowers, please return my tools you borrowed.

Mom made one special request: that there be no yellow flowers at her funeral.

This is no time to get churchy on me, so promise to dig out the old albums and play them real loud. Chill a few bottles of Korbel, Miller, Coke and Bud. Open a bottle of Kahlua and some Crown Royal and remember the good times. Celebrate life and not death. I will live on if you keep my memory alive.

In lieu of flowers, go make a killing on the stock market and share your gains with the Humane Society. Kay would be thrilled.

Final thoughts

His obituary idea: Marlow died; van for sale.

Dad wished us to leave this message: "I was who I was, I did what I did. Those who knew me well can decide about that. I'm off on the next big adventure and to find the love of my life forever, 'Spooky old Evelyn.' "

If he knew that we printed his picture, he would surely have slapped us all up-side the head.

Grandma's quote: Death can't hurt that bad; everybody does it.

Dad was a modest man and would not have liked this obituary, but we get the last word.

Her humor, ever present, helped her win friends and stayed with her 'til the end. When her close friend Jan died, she said, "I wish I would've paid more attention and saw how she did it!"

Just before his death, he said, "I'm not scared of dyin', I just don't want to be there when it happens."

Death is not a period, it's a comma.

The obituary she desired was: "She came, she did, she left."

e-mail: carma@desnews.com