Speaking of Death 

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Before I threw out my alumni magazine, I read the obituaries as I always do. I figure if anyone's gone to the trouble of living, someone may as well acknowledge their efforts.

Most people live long and full lives. Some recent graduates lived shockingly short lives. Being a university alumni magazine, everyone details the direction in which their degrees took them. The most interesting people are the ones who traveled. The other interesting people are the complainers: i.e., Mary Joe Loukins soon learned that the Toronto theatre world was full of back-stabbing whores. You know there are great stories behind those obituaries.

The latest issue (pdf) had a couple of well-written obituaries, of people whom all of us should regret their passing.

First is Percy Saltzman who died at 91 this January. A Canadian Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame inductee, Mr. Saltzman was a 1934 BA.
He was Canada’s first tv weatherman, and with his first broadcast in 1952 was also
the first person to appear live on Canada’s tv screens. His weather show, thought likely too dull by programmers, became a hit that lasted 30 years. Many credit Saltzman for inventing the funny, engaging, rather odd persona weather reporters have been using on tv ever since. In the early days, he used no gadgetry, only a chalk
board. He joked that his shtick was a stick of chalk. To signify the end of each performance, he’d toss the chalk into the air and catch it.
He wasn't just a weatherman:
One of the documentaries he wrote and narrated was a review of Dr. Alfred Kinsey’s first book, Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male. “I used all the polysyllabic provocative porno phraseology I could get away with,” he said. It won the Ohio State University Award for a radio documentary.
Then there is John Sieburth who passed away last December, aged 79, from dementia, sadly enough. A marine microbiologist, Mr. Sieburth discovered the algae that destroys shellfish (calling it brown tide) and was something of a class clown:
In a New York Times obituary, Douglas Martin described an incident at UBC illustrative of Sieburth’s humour and independent spirit: “He wrote a thesis on the life forms in a guinea pig’s intestines, and played a practical joke on his entomology professor by gluing together parts of different insects.”
I like how his curiosity led him to discoveries:
[H]is curiosity would lead him to Antarctica to study penguins, having heard that these birds’ intestines contained no bacteria.....He discovered that the penguins ate krill, that krill contains acrylic acid, and that the acid acts as a natural antibiotic.
Even his hobbies were cool:
When he wasn’t researching, he enjoyed building boats, blacksmithing and carving whale teeth.


I figure if anyone's gone to the trouble of living, someone may as well acknowledge their efforts.

What a wonderful line.

I've had nothing constructive to add of late, but I'm very glad to see you back blogging. Missed you.
I love the obit section in the paper. Most are very ordinary, but ones like this one make you feel like you actually knew the person, if even in a small way. A recent one that I loved listed the person's hobbies as "dinner and genteel conversation".
Bluewyvern: Nothing constructive? You got my husband hooked on that gnome game.

Hebdomeros: I want genteel conversation in my obituary...a goal to work towards. Glad to hear of someone else who reads obituaries.
Enough about the greatness. I want more of the complainers!

Hey, are there any good obit-blogs? I bet you find his politics offensive, but you owe it to yourself to read some of Mark Steyn's obits. He does a regular column for the (American) Spectator, and most of his obits cover entertainers (he's an enormous fan and critic of musical theatre, to the point that a routine, otherwise-baseless snark against Steyn is to question his sexuality).
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