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FDIC Chairman Dies

Adam Bernstein

Bloomberg reports the death today of L. William Seidman, whom the news service said "led the U.S. out of the savings-and-loan crisis in the late 1980s and early 1990s as head of the government agency that seized hundreds of thrifts and sold their assets. He was 88." The Post will have its own obituary presently, by business reporter Binyamin Appelbaum.

It came as a pleasant surprise to hear that his daughter is Carrie Seidman, a reporter for the Albuquerque Tribune, whom I met in 2004 at an obit writers's conference in Las Vegas, N.M. She was assigned the story and developed a great enthusiasm for obits.

As she reported at the time:

You really haven't lived until you've spent some time with a group of obituary writers.
That much was clear at the Sixth Great Obituary Writers' International Conference, this month at the historic Plaza Hotel.

For three days, those who make a living from writing about the dead - as well as fans of the final writes - gathered to discuss their favorite topic. No, not death, but rather the fascinating, eccentric and contradictory lives that often precede the ultimate exit.

The men and women who chronicle the departed are anything but funereal - though you can be sure they'll come up with enough deathly puns and euphemisms to fill a casket. Despite being surrounded by yellowed clippings and families in mourning, they embrace life with a gusto particular to those who are aware it could end all too precipitously.


It didn't matter whom you asked at the conference, they all said the same thing: An obituary is less about loss than life.

"It's not really about death," said Andrew McKie, a chain-smoking Scotsman who commands the obituary desk at the London Daily Telegraph. "Death is just the peg for the biography."


Along with the exposition of the obscure has come a new candor that puts to bed the notion of not speaking ill of the dead. Most modern obituary writers agree that their obligation is to offer the reader a good story rather than to accede to a family's portrayal.

In fact, said Alana Baranick, an obituary and features writer for The Plain Dealer, family members often are the worst sources for accurate remembrances.

"The world would be a better place if all the people I wrote about had never died because they were all loving, giving and never said a bad word about anyone," Baranick said sarcastically.

The favored activity of the weekend was swapping war stories.

As if to prove their point that the best obit is equal parts humor, revelation and celebration, the group spent a good deal of time calling to mind their most memorable subjects - people who made a more indelible impression in death than they often had in life.

By Adam Bernstein  |  May 13, 2009; 3:46 PM ET
Categories:  Adam Bernstein  
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