True stories with a twist!

Unknown-1         In page after page newspapers are filled with stories of violence, killings and wars. If news doesn’t involve those deadly subjects it contains stories of drug busts, kidnappings and families losing homes. I never feel particularly informed, but always feel depressed after reading the papers’ version of “news.”

After too many bad experiences with stories and news reports I discovered that the most interesting articles in the paper are on the obituary pages. Does that sound depressing and strange? I thought so too, until I realized the scope of articles written in that section. This is where interesting people having great accomplishments are described. Lives worth living; lives offering something to the public. Or lives spent in strange unusual ways.

Just yesterday , Sunday, December 30, 2012, the Obituary pages of the New York Times told these stories of the departed and their stories:

In the world of sports Art Larsen, a tennis champion who won the U.S. Title at Wimbledon in 1950, died at the age of 87. As much as he was known for his excellence on the court he was known for his tics and personality quirks. During tennis matches, during side changes he had to step on some lines and not on others. He sometimes addressed an imaginary bird on his shoulder , and he was widely known as “Tappy” because of his need to tap people on the shoulder a given number of times on given days. Larsen was also a drinker, smoker and party lover, but didn’t like training. Still, he was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame in 1969.

The science arena lost Dr. Elwood V. Jensen, age 92, a pioneer in breast cancer care. Dr. Jensen was a medical researcher who studied steroid hormones which led to new treatments for cancer that led to saving hundreds of thousands of lives. He used radioactive tracers to show that steroid hormones affect cells by binding to a specific receptor protein inside them. Breast cancers that are estrogen positive can be treated with medications like Tamoxifen. Women with receptive rich breast cancers often go into remission when estrogen is blocked or removed.  Dr. Jensen developed a test for the presence of estrogen receptors. His work also led to the development of drugs that can inhibit  or enhance the effects of hormones, and are used to treat prostate and other cancers.

The most surprising and seemingly inappropriate story to appear in the NY Times Obituary pages was of a man named Frank Calabrese. Mr. Calabrese , 75, was a loan shark and hit man for the mob in Chicago. His obituary said that he was an especially vicious member of the Chicago organized crime family known as The Outfit and was serving a life sentence. At his trial, the judge commented that he had never seen a case in which both brother and son testified against a defendant.

The stories in the obituary pages are where history lessons are found, interesting lives are reported,  great accomplishments are described.

Plus a few oddball, unexpected  stories.


  1. I’ve never read the obituaries before, but I might just start after reading this post.

  2. This was a great post Ronnie. I think the obituaries would be a great place to find inspiration for some off beat characters. I like that you chose the quirky, the good and the evil. Such a contrast between their lives. 😀

  3. Lynn Murphy said:

    Your perceptive Art for developing and sharing a personal slant upon ordinary circumstances never fails to ignite my senses and we, your devoted readers, are guaranteed you will unravel the intricate aspects of relevance. ,

    I have ALWAYS fancied obits, and enlarged profiles by way of published bios, reviews of lives uniquely lived and put to bed.
    L. Murphy

  4. My kids’ dad used to swear by the obits. I’ve always loved the advice column and One Comic (Bizarro). That’s why we subscribe to the paper – and isn’t that silly!?

  5. This was very interesting and gave me a chuckle or two. My take-away is that “being yourself” can make you reach your goal as an athlete or as a notorious figure. Either way, you’ll be remembered! Ha!

  6. Hello, dear friend. I’d like to nominate your blog for Reader Appreciation Award. If you are OK with it, here is the link:

    Thanks for your contributions.

  7. Love this post Ronnie! You are right and it was really interesting❤
    Happy 2013 and best wishes for you❤😃❤

  8. Cathy Lampron said:

    Interesting point of view. I never thought of it that wa;y, but soo true!

  9. A rare but fascinating post, Ronnie. You’ve earmarked subjects that I tend to miss or skip because of setting/life in my region. Here people pay (depending on size and color) to put up obituary announcements. Details of their history and achievement are hardly attached. So, whenever I’m reading a newspaper/mag, I tend to skip those few pages. But then, things are not the same everywhere. I admit it enriches the mind to read of the history of people who have passed alongside the inevitable news of their demise. I am particularly touched by Dr. Jensen’s account. Like one of your readers rightly said, I wonder why such people are not celebrated even while they were still alive, instead we hear of celebs who, from a very critical pov, are not different from any other human being.

  10. When I taught, I used obituaries to teach biography. Students would find all the different types of writing genres that could represent the person’s life and write them. Plus they learned about some fascinating people, possibly inspiring them- and lots of history too.
    The NY Times ones are great but I found some good ones in the Star-Ledger too.
    Great post! Happy 2013 and happy reading!

    • Your class must have been one of the most popular ones at the school. What a clever way to teach biography! Thanks for your comment, and Happy reading to you in 2013 too. I’m reading “Prague Winter” by Madeline Albright.

  11. The part about Dr. Jensen really made the point for me. Here’s a man who helped save lives, yet we’d never heard of him. Meanwhile, celebrities who seem to do nothing more than live like celebrities get front-page attention every day. We need to change that. This post is a move in the right direction.

    Happy New Year, Ronnie.

  12. Brilliant post. Certainly got my attention. You’re talking to someone who has stopped reading newspapers. I’ll just stand in the newspaper shop and read the “Hatched, Matched and Dispatched” pages, as they used to be called in England

    • Dr. Andrew Weil, the famous homeopathic doctor, suggests “News Fasts” regularly for maintaining good mental health!

      When I read the papers I sift through and find headlines of interest to me. Those are the stories I read …

      I love the “Hatched, Matched and Dispatched” English title.

  13. Loved your obits. The one on Frank Calabrese was especially colorful. 🙂 I am going to have to pay more attention to that section.
    Ronnie, there are a few other pages that might interest you: Letters to the Editor (unless you don’t like starting your day with heartburn), the Comics, Dear Abby (what some people write in about might curl your hair), and the Lifestyle/Entertainment pages.

  14. And just think, by posting about these individuals today, you have given their life even more meaning by introducing them to us. That’s kind of cool, actually. Maybe I’ll have to peruse my paper’s obituaries instead of just flipping the page from now on.

  15. Hi,
    You are so right, that was an interesting read, I never realized the obituary pages could be so informative. Great post.

  16. I LOVED this post! You’re absolutely right, these are fascinating 😉 xxx
    Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

  17. Anonymous said:

    very astute observation. should do a study of six weeks.
    have people read the front page of the paper and also read the obituary page.
    Even on bet that the obituary page will be more interesting and frightfully, less is that for a commentary about the state of our society and the world?

  18. Ronnie: I never cease to be amazed at your wide variety of unusual subjects and the wonderful twist you put on everything. I look forward to each and every blog. Gaye

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