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Archive: Matt Schudel

Posted at 11:10 AM ET, 10/ 9/2009

How I Got the Story: Ben Ali of Ben's Chili Bowl

I had never spoken to Nizam Ali before, but somehow his call to the paper ended up at my desk. I picked it up my phone around 11:30 a.m. Thursday and learned that Ali's father had died the night before.

His father was Ben Ali, who wasn't exactly a public figure but the place he created certainly was a public institution: Ben's Chili Bowl. I casually mentioned it to some reporters and editors around me, and all of a sudden we were launched on multimedia whirlwind throughout the day. In less than 15 minutes, I put together a brief seven-inch teaser obit for our online Web site, letting the world know that Ben Ali had died. In no time, the story hit the wires, the blogs (including Post Mortem) and TV.

All of that's nice, of course, but my work was just beginning. People often think obituaries are fairly easy to do, with clean-cut blocks of information cleverly repackaged and locked in place. Well, that's hardly ever the case, and it certainly wasn't true about the story of Ben Ali.

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Posted at 4:23 PM ET, 10/ 1/2009

The Obit You'll Never See

It can get monotonous, but we do background checks and information searches for every obituary we do, even it it's a local person of no particular renown. Most of the time, we find nothing -- the vast majority of people lead their lives out of the public eye in more or less total anonymity.

Earlier today, I was preparing to write a standard local obituary of a retired minister when I ran his name through our database. Well, lo and behold, I discovered that our good man of the cloth had been arrested and convicted of a felony while in his mid-60s. Except for this one episode, about which I'm being deliberately vague, he had never been in trouble with the law before, had an upstanding record of volunteer service and apparently had a loyal following at his church.

I suppose you could say ministers are public figures in their churches and local communities, but this man had otherwise never been in the news and was not known to the broader D.C. region. If someone is essentially a private citizen, we give families the option of running the obituary or not. (Believe it or not, we don't willingly inflict psychic pain on people if we don't have to. Who says big-city newspapers don't have a heart?)

At any rate, I called a family member and explained what my reporting had turned up. The family was grateful to hear from me and decided, given the facts of the case, not to run an obituary at all. The pastor will go unremembered in our pages.

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Posted at 1:07 PM ET, 09/26/2009

Alicia de Larrocha, pianist; updated

Long ago, in my fast-receding youth, I studied piano for several years. Well, let me rephrase that: I took piano lessons. Alicia de Larrocha, the exquisite Spanish pianist who has died at the age of 86, studied piano.

I've always been short, though not as short as Ms. de Larrocha's 4-feet-9, and when I was 8, 9 and 10, I had to sit close to the keyboard, sometimes on top of a catalogue. Maybe that's why I've always enjoyed Ms. de Larrocha so much: As you can see in this video of her playing the final movement of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 25, or this clip of the third movement of Ravel's Concerto in G, she resembles a preternaturally talented kid propped up on the piano bench so she can reach the keys. She looks a little like a classically trained Dr. Ruth. (For more of the Dr. Ruth effect, by the way, check out this charming video of Ms. de Larrocha with Michael Tilson Thomas and, of all people, Dudley Moore -- who began his career as a pianist.)

Ms. de Larrocha had small, pudgy hands with short fingers (sort of like mine, come to think of it) and could stretch her hand to a "10th" -- two notes past an octave -- when many other pianists can reach 11 or 12 notes. In later years, as Ms. de Larrocha shrank to about 4-feet-5 or 6, her hand could cover only nine notes. She compensated with absolutely perfect technique. She never grimaced, groaned, threw her hands up in the air or leaned down to drape her hair over the keyboard. If you want to know how a pianist should approach the keyboard, just watch this incendiary performance from the 1960s of Manuel de Falla's "Fire Dance."

Ms. de Larrocha began studying music when she was 3 and had few peers at interpreting another child genius, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Here she is performing a movement from Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 27:

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Posted at 5:42 PM ET, 09/23/2009

Willy Ronis's Views of Paris

Anyone with lingering mental images of the romantic balconies and side streets of Paris owes a debt of imagination to Willy Ronis.

The Hungarian-born photographer, whose sweet, unadorned pictures of Parisian life practically echo with the sound of accordion music and clinking coffee cups, has died in Paris at the grand age of 99.

Like Henri Carter-Bresson, Robert Doisneau, Brassai and another Hungarian emigre, Andre Kertesz, Ronis had an eye for the small gestures and quiet corners that make Paris so eternally fascinating.

Ronis may not have been quite as famous as some of his fellow poets of the shutter, but his photographs of street scenes and interiors capture a timeless sense of the Parisian spirit. He shoots from high angles, with dramatic shadows adding to the photographs' alluring quality, and he portrays Paris in all its inimitable variety, from rain-slickened streets to the city's waterfront to intime views of nude women lounging in a lovely half-light. Paris may not be like this anymore, but Willy Ronis managed to capture the Paris of our hearts.

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Posted at 1:15 PM ET, 09/17/2009

Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary

Mary Travers, of Peter, Paul and Mary fame, has died at the age of 72. We didn't hear about her until about 9 p.m. Wednesday, when the obits staff had already gone home to rest after several onerous days of work -- we've had a ton of major obits in the past week -- so that's why the Post ended up going with the Associated Press obituary on Travers.

A lot of people are familiar with "Puff the Magic Dragon," which was a big hit for PP&M in 1963, but I suspect younger readers might not have a clue of how popular the folk trio was in its heyday. Peter Yarrow, Paul Stookey and Mary Travers constituted, in many ways, the ultimate 1960s musical group.

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Frank Batten Sr.; created Weather Channel

Frank Batten Sr., a Norfolk, Va., publisher who founded the Weather Channel and was the 190th richest person in America, has died at 82. We'll get an obituary up as soon as we can get one prepared....

By Matt Schudel | September 10, 2009; 12:27 PM ET | Comments (0)

John Jay Daly, PR Wizard

Everyone on the Obituaries desk has gotten to know John Jay Daly over the years. He took it upon himself to let us know when neighbors and local residents had died and drafted many obituaries that he sent our way. The time has come, unfortunately, for Mr. Daly's obituary to...

By Matt Schudel | August 29, 2009; 07:34 PM ET | Comments (0)

Ellie Greenwich, Songwriter

I have to confess that I had never heard of Ellie Greenwich before she died this week at 68. But I've certainly heard of the songs she wrote in the 1960s with her husband, Jeff Barry: "Be My Baby," "Chapel of Love," "River Deep, Mountain High" and, of course, the...

By Matt Schudel | August 28, 2009; 06:51 AM ET | Comments (0)

Dominick Dunne, 83; updated

Dominick Dunne, the irrepressible Vanity Fair reporter who became a journalist and novelist late in life, died Aug. 26 at his home in Manhattan. He died right on deadline for morning newspapers, but fortunately I had prepared an obituary several months earlier, which I updated and reworked and managed to...

By Matt Schudel | August 26, 2009; 05:39 PM ET | Comments (0)

Kenneth Bacon, 64

Kenneth H. Bacon died Aug. 15 at the age of 64. He may not have been well known to the general public, but he was a gentle-voiced Washington insider who quietly worked in the city's higher reaches of journalism, government service and international charity. For most of the eight years...

By Matt Schudel | August 15, 2009; 12:30 PM ET | Comments (2)

Les Paul Dies at 94; updated

Les Paul, the long-lived musician who invented the solid-body electric guitar and multi-track recording, has died at 94. Check out Adam Bernstein's obituary here. He became famous in the 1960s for the eponymous Les Paul guitar, a solid-body electric with a distinctive rounded shape that powered many of the popular...

By Matt Schudel | August 13, 2009; 12:17 PM ET | Comments (4)

King Corcoran

People often ask me which people are the most remarkable characters I've ever written about. There have been many, but today I have someone new to add to the list. Jim "King" Corcoran is one of the most fascinating and frustrating, charismatic and callous people I have ever had the...

By Matt Schudel | August 2, 2009; 07:24 AM ET | Comments (3)

Bobby Robson & 'The Hand of a Rascal'

Fans of British soccer are mourning the death of Sir Bobby Robson, who played in the World Cup in 1958 and coached the British national team to an excellent run in the 1986 World Cup. His British team was finally undone in the 1986 quarterfinals by Argentina, whose star player...

By Matt Schudel | August 2, 2009; 05:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

Ombudsman's Look at Obits

We generally toil in complete anonymity here on the Obits desk, but every now and then a light breeze of recognition comes our way. This weekend the Post ombudsman, Andy Alexander, takes a look at what we do here in Obits. As Alexander and Obits editor Adam Bernstein point out,...

By Matt Schudel | August 1, 2009; 12:04 PM ET | Comments (0)

George Russell

George Russell, who died this week, was an immensely important figure in music history who is totally unknown to the general public. Russell was a jazz composer, occasional bandleader and theoretician. I'm not surprised if you've never heard of him, but if you're aware of any musical expression deeper than...

By Matt Schudel | July 29, 2009; 11:23 AM ET | Comments (0)

Yo Quiero Taco Bell

Gidget died this week -- no, not the teen surf girl played by Sandra Dee in the movies and Sally Field on TV, but Gidget the chihuahua. Gidget became famous in the late 1990s as the star of a series of Taco Bell commercials, in which she said (in a...

By Matt Schudel | July 23, 2009; 05:29 PM ET | Comments (0)

Walter Cronkite

The big news today, of course, is the death of Walter Cronkite, the CBS news anchor who led the most respected broadcast jouranalism team of the 1960s and '70s. Cronkite was 92 and, in many ways, outlived his time. He retired -- somewhat against his will -- from the CBS...

By Matt Schudel | July 18, 2009; 10:53 AM ET | Comments (0)

Conductor's Assisted Suicide

In Friday's paper, we have a wire obituary of British conductor Edward Downes, who died this week at the age of 85. He was a conductor of modest renown but his obituary has become a huge story in England because of the manner in which he died. Downes and his...

By Matt Schudel | July 17, 2009; 11:48 AM ET | Comments (2)

Internet Obituary Hoax

Last week former Washington Post Pentagon reporter Thomas Ricks forwarded an e-mail to us about a promising subject for an obituary. He had received a message about the death of a neglected hero, with this lament: "Michael Jackson dies and it's 24/7 news coverage. A real American hero dies and...

By Matt Schudel | July 15, 2009; 05:59 PM ET | Comments (1)

Remarkable People, Despite the Odds

Occasionally, surprising coincidences occur in obituaries, and today The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times have a rare convergence of three stories about people who were blind or had limited eyesight. Joe Holley has a heartwarming Local Life feature in The Post about John "Buck" Buckley, a star high school...

By Matt Schudel | July 12, 2009; 11:53 AM ET | Comments (0)

Only in Florida

I spent way too many years in Florida, which is by far the strangest, most violent state in the country -- and, therefore, a great place to be a journalist. I began to collect what I called "Weird Florida" stories about all the crazy things that were all too common...

By Matt Schudel | July 8, 2009; 02:33 PM ET | Comments (0)

Boxer Alexis Arguello, updated

Alexis Arguello, the great Nicaraguan boxing champion of the 1970s and 1980s, died July 1 in Managua, Nicaragua, of an apparent suicide. Last November, he was elected mayor of Nicaragua's capital city and had recently come under fire for allegations of corruption. But Arguello (pronounced ar-GWAY-yo) was a true national...

By Matt Schudel | July 2, 2009; 11:42 AM ET | Comments (0)

Karl Malden dies at 97; Alexis Arguello dead at 57

Karl Malden, the actor who won an Academy Award for best supporting actor his performance as Mitch in the 1951 film version of "A Streetcar Named Desire" and who was nominated for an Oscar as a priest in "On the Waterfront" (1954), has died at the age of 97. Malden...

By Matt Schudel | July 1, 2009; 03:45 PM ET | Comments (3)

Michael Jackson Obit, the Backstory

About 7 p.m. Thursday evening, former Post managing editor Bob Kaiser wandered past the obits desk and asked, ever so innocently, "Any noteworthy deaths today?" Kaiser, who has been at the Post since 1963, knows the gallows humor of newsrooms better than anyone, and of course he knew we were...

By Matt Schudel | June 26, 2009; 10:44 AM ET | Comments (5)

Magic Fingers

We've had two obituaries in the past two days, you could say, about magic fingers or "Magic Fingers." The first, on Saturday, was Robert Thomason's obituary of Ali Akbar Khan, a Bengali musicain who was a virtuoso of Indian music and, in particular, the 25-string lutelike instrument called the sarod....

By Matt Schudel | June 21, 2009; 05:58 AM ET | Comments (0)

More on the Ventures

I put up an earlier post about Bob Bogle, the guitarist and bass player who was one of the founders of the Ventures, the quintessential rock-and-roll guitar band. The obituary of Bogle appears today, and if you have a second, I want to point out one interesting sidelight concerning the...

By Matt Schudel | June 17, 2009; 11:28 AM ET | Comments (2)

Bob Bogle of the Ventures

Who doesn't love the Ventures? They were the most successful rock-and-roll instrumental group of all time and had an instantly recognizable rumbling guitar sound that is infectious, thrilling and dangerous all at once. Bob Bogle, who founded the Ventures with Don Wilson, died this week, and he had more influence...

By Matt Schudel | June 17, 2009; 06:41 AM ET | Comments (0)

Preserving History

I have to confess I had never heard of Mary Ann Kephart before I began to work on her obituary this week. Mrs. Kephart never had a paying job outside the home, was never well known beyond Poolesville, the rural community in northwestern Montgomery County, Md., and never get caught...

By Matt Schudel | June 14, 2009; 07:17 AM ET | Comments (0)

Weasel Words

Well, it's been a busy two days here on the obits desk. On Friday, I completed the Local Life of Paul Wasserman -- a librarian who founded the University of Maryland's College of Information Studies (as it's now called, to his chagrin). More about that in a moment. On Saturday,...

By Matt Schudel | June 7, 2009; 07:27 AM ET | Comments (0)

Robert Wone Murder Case

In case you haven't seen it, Paul Duggan has written a remarkable story for The Post about one of the most mystifying murders in Washington in recent years -- the killing of Robert Wone. Duggan's two-part story retelling the 2006 murder of a young lawyer in a townhouse near Dupont...

By Matt Schudel | June 2, 2009; 03:14 PM ET | Comments (0)

'All in the Family' Writer

Michael "Mickey" Ross, a television writer and producer, who had a role in creating "All in the Family," "The Jeffersons" and "Three's Company," has died at the age of 89. He was a longtime associate of Norman Lear and won an Emmy for co-writing an episode in which Archie and...

By Matt Schudel | May 31, 2009; 04:57 AM ET | Comments (0)

Ethnic Studies Pioneer

Ronald Takaki, a professor who created the ethnic studies program at the University of California at Berkeley, has died at the age of 70. His name may not be well known, but the field of ethnic studies has emerged as an important and controversial component of higher educaiton. We'll be...

By Matt Schudel | May 29, 2009; 06:00 PM ET | Comments (0)

Three Views of an Architect

I recently wrote the obituary of Canadian architect Arthur Erickson, who designed the Canadian embassy here in Washington. Philip Johnson, the oracular American architect, once said, "Arthur Erickson is by far the greatest architect in Canada, and may be the greatest on this continent." I chose to concentrate largely on...

By Matt Schudel | May 23, 2009; 02:12 PM ET | Comments (0)

Lincoln's Biographer

David Herbert Donald, the distinguished biographer of Abraham Lincoln and historian of the Civil War, has died at the age of 88. Donald was a remarkable scholar who worked up to the end, hard at work on a biography of John Quincy Adams. Donald was, in the overused and little-understood...

By Matt Schudel | May 21, 2009; 07:39 AM ET | Comments (0)

Wayman Tisdale

Wayman Tisdale, whose obituary appears Sunday in the Post, was one of the finest college basketball players of all time. He was a three-time all-American at the University of Oklahoma and was named the Big Eight Conference's player of the year three years in a row. He was an unstoppable...

By Matt Schudel | May 17, 2009; 06:36 AM ET | Comments (0)

Ted Sampley, Rabble Rouser

Ted Sampley may not have been a household name, but he certainly made life uncomfortable for a lot of people who were. Check out the Post's obituary of Sampley, who was an activist for the POW/MIA cause and much more. the first obit outside his home state of North Carolina...

By Matt Schudel | May 15, 2009; 12:38 PM ET | Comments (14)

The Brothers DiMaggio

Dom DiMaggio, the younger brother of baseball legend Joe DiMaggio, was a very interesting man, and only in part because of his famous brother. He was a fine ballplayer in his own right, and there was a movement in the 1980s and '90s led by his former teammate, Ted Williams,...

By Matt Schudel | May 9, 2009; 11:35 AM ET | Comments (0)

Dom DiMaggio, Brother of Joe

Baseball player Dom DiMaggio, brother of the more famous Joe and teammate of Ted Williams, has died at 92. Though he was never quite the player that his brother was, he was a classy centerfielder with the Boston Red Sox in the 1940s and 1950s and was one of the...

By Matt Schudel | May 8, 2009; 10:48 AM ET | Comments (1)

Dom DeLuise & Variety Shows

If you see me at my desk looking at videos on YouTube, you might think I'm goofing off. Well, I do plenty of that, I have to confess, but in the case of today's obituary of Dom DeLuise, I've been looking at clips from his many films and appearances...

By Matt Schudel | May 6, 2009; 12:02 PM ET | Comments (0)

Fighting For His Life

The Washington Post was the first U.S. newspaper to report the death of Salamo Arouch, a Greek-born boxer who survived imprisonment in the Auschwitz concentration camp in World War II because he was so tough. Arouch was from the Jewish enclave in Salonika, Greece, and was a rising boxing star...

By Matt Schudel | May 2, 2009; 01:34 PM ET | Comments (0)

Barbara Ringer's Untold Story

Last Sunday, I had a Local Life feature about Barbara Ringer, a Library of Congress lawyer who was the first woman to hold the position of register of copyrights, a position that dates back to the 19th century. She was a remarkable woman who was a quintessentially Washingtonian kind of...

By Matt Schudel | April 29, 2009; 11:28 AM ET | Comments (0)

The Daily Goodbye

I thought I'd post a few links to interesting obituaries around the world. Here's an obit from the Toronto Star about a woman who, with her husband, was one of the foremost scholars of the monarch butterfly. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports on the death of a former owner of...

By Matt Schudel | April 19, 2009; 12:54 PM ET | Comments (0)

Death Stars?

Are the four smiling faces at the top of this page "Murderers' Row" or, as an article just out in Editor & Publisher calls us, "Death Stars"? Joe Strupp, E&P's media reporter, interviewed several of us about the blog you're reading and asked the question that everyone asks at first:...

By Matt Schudel | April 18, 2009; 11:25 AM ET | Comments (0)

How Much Can You Say About Marilyn Chambers?

I had the opportunity this week to write the Post's obituary of Marilyn Chambers, the Ivory Snow girl who became a star of hard-core pornography in the anything-goes days of the 1970s. At the age of 19, when her face was appearing on boxes of Ivory Snow detergent -- advertised...

By Matt Schudel | April 16, 2009; 01:49 PM ET | Comments (5)

Phillies Announcer Harry Kalas

Harry Kalas, the longtime voice of the Philadelphia Phillies on TV and radio stations in Philadelphia, collapsed today at Nationals Park in Washington and died at George Washington University Hospital. He was 73. Kalas was known for his clipped, laconic style, in which each word seemed to be turned over...

By Matt Schudel | April 13, 2009; 02:23 PM ET | Comments (0)

California Dreamin'

The great jazz musician Bud Shank has died at the age of 82. He had one of the most unlikely backgrounds for any jazz musician, growing up not in the urban welter of cultural ferment or in the musically rich backwaters of the South -- but on a farm in...

By Matt Schudel | April 5, 2009; 06:41 AM ET | Comments (1)

Tuskegee Airmen

At the Jan. 20 inauguration of Barack Obama as the nation's 44th president, a special section was set aside for a distinguished group of veterans called the Tuskegee Airmen. Now aging and disappearing fast, they were members of an elite group of black aviators who were not allowed to serve...

By Matt Schudel | March 28, 2009; 01:54 PM ET | Comments (0)

The Daily Goodbye

Here are a few obits from elsewhere that are worth a look. The L.A. Times writes about Dorothea Holt Redmond, who helped create the look and mood of many of Alfred Hitchcock's films. England's Guardian newspaper has a nice piece about Margaret Mellis, a British artist who made sculptures from...

By Matt Schudel | March 21, 2009; 02:55 PM ET | Comments (0)

Almost the Same Name, Plus Video Links

By sheer coincidence, the last two bylined obituaries I've written have been of two people with almost identical names: Jack Lorenz and Jack Lawrence. The two men were near opposites in every respect except their names. Jack Lorenz (pronounced lo-RENZ) was the executive director of the Izaak Walton League, one...

By Matt Schudel | March 18, 2009; 11:39 AM ET | Comments (0)

Karl Marx is dead

On this date (March 14) in 1883, Karl Marx died at the age of 64. (I've always wondered how much he got paid for "Das Kapital" and "The Communist Manifesto," but I guess that's off the point.) Other notable deaths on this date in history: 1925: Walter Camp, coach and...

By Matt Schudel | March 14, 2009; 11:49 AM ET | Comments (0)

Pick Your Favorite Obits (updated)

The Society of Professional Obituary Writers is preparing for its annual gathering next month in Charlotte, N.C. In the meantime, you can go online and cast your readers' choice votes for the year's top obits. (As far as I know, no Washington Post writers entered the contest this year. Sheer...

By Matt Schudel | March 10, 2009; 06:03 PM ET | Comments (4)

Fashion Foot(ball) Forward

Not many people nowadays remember George McAfee, one of the greatest football players of the 1930s and 1940s. He was an all-American at Duke and two-way star for the Chicago Bears -- and scored a touchdown in the Bears' famous 73-0 championship shellacking of the Washington Redskins in 1940. (Obituary...

By Matt Schudel | March 7, 2009; 06:22 AM ET | Comments (0)

Overseas Obit

From our British friends at the Telegraph comes this touching and cautionary obituary of Joan Turner, an entertainer I had never heard of before. "At the pinnacle of her career Joan Turner became the highest-earning female singer and comedienne in the country, with a recording contract, her own radio and...

By Matt Schudel | March 6, 2009; 04:49 PM ET | Comments (0)

Sex Lives of Astronauts

Over the weekend, I wrote the obituary of a remarkable but little-known NASA scientist named Mel Averner. He was, among many other things, the coauthor of the first serious scientific article proposing how human beings could live on Mars. He was a brilliant man, learned in all kinds of sciences,...

By Matt Schudel | March 5, 2009; 11:20 AM ET | Comments (0)

Socks the Cat

The most noteworthy celebrity death of the day happens to be of a creature who lived in the most prestigious address in the country and endured the media's glare without ever saying a bad thing about anyone. Socks the Cat, the White House pet of the Clinton family, died Friday...

By Matt Schudel | February 21, 2009; 12:01 PM ET | Comments (0)

Sarah Booth Conroy -- Update

With the death of Sarah Booth Conroy this week, The Washington Post lost a little of its color, culture and class. Sarah Booth -- no one but her husband ever called her just "Sarah" -- was a genteel tornado of energy who probably knew more about the ins and outs...

By Matt Schudel | January 14, 2009; 11:00 AM ET | Comments (3)

Harold and Eartha

It's hard to conceive of two cultural figures more opposite than the two who appear on today's obituary pages: Harold Pinter and Eartha Kitt. Pinter, of course, was the playwright of undefined terror and gloom, a Nobel Prize-winning writer who used his Nobel acceptance speech in 2005 to denounce the...

By Matt Schudel | December 26, 2008; 01:05 PM ET | Comments (0)

One Nation Under God

A couple of days ago, I wrote an obituary of George M. Docherty, the former pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington. Rev. Docherty was a Scotsman who came to Washington in 1950 to become the minister at what is still known as "Lincoln's church" -- since...

By Matt Schudel | December 2, 2008; 05:58 PM ET | Comments (2)

A Pair of Lefthanders

Two lefthanded baseball pitchers died this week, Preacher Roe and Herb Score. (Our obituary of Score isn't in the paper as of Nov. 12 because we didn't have enough space.) Roe was a crafty pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers during their "Boys of Summer" glory days of the late 1940s...

By Matt Schudel | November 12, 2008; 06:19 AM ET | Comments (0)

Was Austrian Right Winger Gay?

On Oct. 11, Jorg Haider, the longtime leader of a far-right political movement in Austria, died in an auto accident in his native country. I wrote an obituary of Haider on deadline for the next day's Post. He was 58 and had regained a measure of power in Austrian parliamentary...

By Matt Schudel | October 24, 2008; 06:20 PM ET | Comments (2)

Only in Washington

Today, we have the incredible story of Robert Furman. Robert who, you ask? Well, check out today's Metro section for the tale of a man who led an amazing life of derring-do as the leader of an international espionage operation in World War II, as he tried to learn if...

By Matt Schudel | October 19, 2008; 06:19 AM ET | Comments (1)

Pictures, Word and Music

Today is one of those rare days of obituary synchronicity, when two people in complementary fields have died at the time. The photographer William Claxton, who chronicled the West Coast jazz scene in beautifully evocative images, and composer-arranger Neal Hefti, whose swinging arrangements defined an insouciant, carefree style of music,...

By Matt Schudel | October 15, 2008; 01:02 PM ET | Comments (1)

Baseball's Forgotten Star

With the exception of the great Walter Johnson, who pitched the Senators to their only world championship in 1924, Vernon was the most popular baseball player Washington had ever known ...

By Matt Schudel | September 26, 2008; 12:07 PM ET | Comments (1)

The Greatest Editor?

Robert Giroux, who is probably unknown to the general public, died yesterday and is remembered in an obituary in today's (Saturday, Sept. 6) paper. It was 5:30 p.m. when we learned that Giroux had died, and getting the obituary in the paper was a challenge, since we did not have...

By Matt Schudel | September 6, 2008; 11:22 AM ET | Comments (1)

The Peanuts Gang

The great animator Bill Melendez died this week at the age of 91. If you don't recognize his name, you certainly know his work: He animated every "Peanuts" cartoon that has ever appeared on television or in film -- including more than 370 commercials. Mr. Melendez was a Mexican immigrant...

By Matt Schudel | September 4, 2008; 11:11 AM ET | Comments (0)

Bernie Mac Dies at 50

The comedian and actor Bernie Mac (full name Bernard McCullough) died Saturday at the age of 50. He had pneumonia, possibly complicated by a chronic lung disease, called sarcoidosis. Bernie Mac had a hard-luck life, growing up in poverty and holding a lot of dead-end jobs, and often spoke of...

By Matt Schudel | August 9, 2008; 06:50 PM ET | Comments (7)

Is God Dead? (UPDATED)

In 1966, Time magazine ran a provocative cover with the bold question, "Is God Dead?" The story led to sharp backlash from social conservatives and sparked a public debate about philosophy and religion. The editor responsible for that story, Otto Fuerbringer, has died at 97, and his obituary is in...

By Matt Schudel | July 31, 2008; 01:26 PM ET | Comments (0)

Chuck Stobbs and Donald Dunaway (UPDATED)

Longtime Washingtonians may remember the name of Chuck Stobbs, a pitcher with the lowly Washington Senators of the 1950s. Stobbs died July 11 in Florida and, much to his chagrin, could never live down his moment in history. On April 17, 1953, in his very first game with the old...

By Matt Schudel | July 25, 2008; 07:54 AM ET | Comments (3)

The Tragedy of Tom Disch

I was out of the office Monday when Michael Dirda, the Post's longtime book critic, sent me an e-mail about the death of Thomas M. Disch. He had known Disch very well and had commissioned him to write dozens of reviews for the Post's Book World over the years. As...

By Matt Schudel | July 9, 2008; 04:49 PM ET | Comments (2)

Clay Felker's New York

If you're too young to remember the '70s, well, you missed a decade of showmanship, grandiloquent excess, great movies and spirited journalism unlike anything we've seen since. There was more than enough decadence to go around, but it was also a time when great reporting was seen as a way...

By Matt Schudel | July 2, 2008; 11:33 AM ET | Comments (0)

What's a Handicap?

Purely by chance, our lead obituary and Local Life this week are about two people who overcame handicaps to accomplish remarkable things. The lead obituary is about baseball player Bert Shepard, who pitched for the original Washington Nationals in 1945, despite having had the lower part of his right leg...

By Matt Schudel | June 21, 2008; 11:44 PM ET | Comments (1)

Tim Russert

You tend to get a little jaded in this business, and it takes a lot to shock an obit writer. But yesterday afternoon, when we got word that Tim Russert had died, we -- and the entire staff of the Post -- were in complete shock and disbelief. The paper...

By Matt Schudel | June 14, 2008; 11:49 AM ET | Comments (4)

The Synchronicity of F. Scott Fitzgerald

I had meant to post this blog item last Saturday, but I was too busy writing the obituary of ABC sportscaster Jim McKay. But, on the dubious theory that it's better late than never, I wanted to point out the odd occurrence of having two articles in The Post about...

By Matt Schudel | June 10, 2008; 11:37 AM ET | Comments (0)

Brother of the More Famous Robert

I enjoy writing about photography, but I hadn't expected to write about two photographers in less than a week. Last week, I wrote about the death of my friend Flip Schulke, whose career was highlighted by his haunting images of the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King Jr. Then,...

By Matt Schudel | May 24, 2008; 01:26 PM ET | Comments (0)

The Death of a Friend

When I got to my desk Friday, my colleague Joe Holley told me Flip Schulke had died. Joe had already pulled some clips and begun background work on Flip, a photographer from the glory days of Life magazine who was one of the greatest chroniclers of the civil rights era....

By Matt Schudel | May 17, 2008; 12:06 PM ET | Comments (0)

Everyone Complains About the Weather...

... but George Cressman did something about it -- well, sort of. George P. Cressman was the director of the National Weather Service from 1965 to 1979 and was nothing less than a legend in his field. He was, as one of his colleagues told me for today's obituary, "really,...

By Matt Schudel | May 9, 2008; 12:46 PM ET | Comments (5)

His Dying Wish

Vladimir Nabokov, the celebrated Russian author of "Lolita," "Pale Fire" and other monuments of 20th-century literature, was working on a new novel, "The Original of Laura," at the time of his death in 1977. He ordered that the manuscript be burned. His command makes you wonder about any relative's "dying...

By Matt Schudel | May 1, 2008; 01:06 PM ET | Comments (2)

The Spy Game

John Guilsher was a quiet, modest man who spent 50 years as an officer and consultant for the CIA. For most obituaries of CIA officers, that's about all the information we get. But the story of John Ivan Guilsher is something special. For Sunday's Local Life, I was able to...

By Matt Schudel | April 20, 2008; 05:12 AM ET | Comments (0)

Are You Ready for Some Football?

So you've never heard of Buzz Nutter, eh? Well, pull up a chair -- and a copy of today's obituary -- and let me tell you about the man who snapped the ball to Johnny Unitas in the Greatest Game Ever Played. Buzz Nutter, whose given name was the elegant...

By Matt Schudel | April 18, 2008; 11:01 AM ET | Comments (1)

What Might Have Been

British film director Anthony Minghella, who won an Academy Award for directing "The English Patient," died yesterday at the age of 54. This is the kind of the death that takes the world by surprise -- including the Obituary desk. Minghella was in relatively good health and died of a...

By Matt Schudel | March 19, 2008; 11:31 AM ET | Comments (0)

Mostly, He Wrote About Sports

W.C. Heinz died last week at the age of 93. His name may not mean much to most people, but to journalists and to sportswriters in particular, he is practically a god. Heinz had the misfortune to write for newspapers and magazines that were always going out of business. The...

By Matt Schudel | March 5, 2008; 11:10 AM ET | Comments (4)

The Power of Words

I spent much of the day editing and updating our obituary of William F. Buckley Jr., the intellectual father of the modern conservative movement who died at his desk yesterday at age 82. The original story was written a few years ago by retired Post obituarist Bart Barnes, who graduated...

By Matt Schudel | February 27, 2008; 10:47 PM ET | Comments (0)

Between the Weather and the Elections...

... Interesting people are still leaving this frail crust of earth. I'm biased, of course, but I thought the most compelling story in the paper today (Wednesday, Feb. 13) was Joe Holley's obituary of Glenn E. Wise, an inventor and official at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Joe has...

By Matt Schudel | February 13, 2008; 05:15 PM ET | Comments (0)

Who needs commas, anyway?

A couple of weeks ago, Chicago Tribune critic Julia Keller had a column about the standard form of obituaries. Namely (so to speak), she wondered why obituaries always begin with the formula of "Name, comma, phrase describing what the person did, comma, and died." She writes: "A standard obituary requires...

By Matt Schudel | January 5, 2008; 03:17 PM ET | Comments (6)

Memories of Hank

How do you write about the death of a friend? Last Sunday, I wrote an obituary of Hank Kaplan, the country's foremost historian of boxing. I'm rather proud of the story, both as a piece of writing and as a remembrance of someone I knew rather well. If you haven't...

By Matt Schudel | December 20, 2007; 08:47 AM ET | Comments (0)

Obit Sleuthing

... it may not be as dramatic as Bob Woodward lurking in parking garages to get the scoop on Watergate from Deep Throat, but it felt like a small investigative triumph here on the Obits desk...

By Matt Schudel | December 1, 2007; 12:34 PM ET | Comments (0)

Good and Evel

If you haven't read Pat Sullivan's obituary of Evel Knievel yet, click on this link and read it right now. Pat has done a remarkable job of summing up the amazing life (and death) of America's Daredevil -- and did it all on deadline Friday afternoon and evening. When word...

By Matt Schudel | December 1, 2007; 11:54 AM ET | Comments (0)

What Does Gatorade Taste Like?

Dr. J. Robert Cade, who was largely responsible for the invention of Gatorade, was quite a guy. He was a nephrologist -- a kidney specialist -- at the University of Florida who studied the blood composition, fatigue levels and body temperatures of the university's football players before brewing up the...

By Matt Schudel | November 28, 2007; 06:23 PM ET | Comments (4)

Fight of the Century

Norman Mailer, the great or greatly annoying (depending on your point of view) novelist, journalist and provocateur, died last Saturday at the age of 84. We had an obituary in hand by Bart Barnes, a former Post obit writer who retired about three and a half years ago. (I sit...

By Matt Schudel | November 16, 2007; 06:09 AM ET | Comments (3)

The Daily Goodbye

Here's the roundup of today's interesting obituaries from around the country and around the world. We'll start, naturally, with The Post, where our lead obituary is of Igor Moiseyev, the remarkable Russian dance master who created a new form of dance, combining folk idioms with the high art of ballet....

By Matt Schudel | November 4, 2007; 01:57 PM ET | Comments (0)

Shades of Gray

I've just completed a relatively short obituary of an administrative law judge named John Gray. (It should be in the paper on Thursday, Oct. 25.) He had a fairly high-powered, if not exactly colorful, Washington career -- law school grad who spent 12 years as an FBI agent, then 15...

By Matt Schudel | October 24, 2007; 03:25 PM ET | Comments (0)

The Good Doctor

Sometimes when I'm writing an obituary, I run across someone who is so admirable and so humanely decent that it's hard to believe. The moment I knew there was something extraordinary about Dr. W. Proctor Harvey was when I learned that he had his medical students listen to Beethoven. He...

By Matt Schudel | October 17, 2007; 12:06 PM ET | Comments (0)

Greatly Exaggerated

While traveling abroad in 1867, Mark Twain heard rumors that some American newspapers had prematurely declared him dead and printed his obituary. Twain supposedly sent off a telegram with his famous comment, "The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated." (Actually, according to this Web site, which reproduces Twain's handwritten...

By Matt Schudel | October 4, 2007; 11:49 AM ET | Comments (0)

An Obituary of Another Kind

Most of us who work in Obits have a soft spot for nostalgia -- after all, more than most reporters, we deal with events from the past. And nothing melts a reporter's heart more than tales of the glorious, rambunctious days of old-time journalism, when newsrooms were noisy with the...

By Matt Schudel | October 3, 2007; 12:53 PM ET | Comments (0)

Local Lives

Most of the larger obituaries in major newspapers are about the famous and the mighty. When a celebrity, political leader or distinguished scientist dies, we try to describe the significance that person's life as fully as we can. But what about people who weren't well known but who left a...

By Matt Schudel | September 30, 2007; 12:05 PM ET | Comments (3)

If Only We Knew ...

In today's paper (Sept. 20), we have an obituary of Ernest Peter Uiberall, an Army lieutenant colonel who was an interpreter during the Nazi war crime trials at Nuremberg after World War II. Uiberall had a fascinating, if harrowing life. He was born in Vienna and was part of the...

By Matt Schudel | September 20, 2007; 03:30 PM ET | Comments (1)

Radio, Radio

Last Friday, a reader sent an outraged note to the Post ombudsman, Deborah Howell, saying it was " just insane, ridiculous" that we hadn't done an obituary on Jake Einstein, who had developed the Washington area's first alternative rock station, WHFS-FM, in Bethesda. The reader said our oversight was "just...

By Matt Schudel | September 18, 2007; 11:59 AM ET | Comments (0)


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