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Grimmy Winners: The Best Obituaries of 2010 / Nick Ehrhardt

Grimmy Winners: The Best Obituaries of 2010

Grimmy AwardThe Society of Professional Obituary Writers (SPOW) recently presented its Grimmy Awards for obit writing at the organization’s conference in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Maureen O’Donnell, obituary writer for the Chicago Sun Times, was present to accept two Grimmies: one for Best Body of Work (Short Form) based on five obits that were published in 2010, and the second for the obit she wrote about Joseph Sterling, named Best Obituary (Short Form) about a Well-Known Regional Figure.

You’ve got to love her lede on the Sterling obit:

You can almost smell the Brylcreem in Joseph Sterling's photographs of Chicago teenagers in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

They are a time machine back to an era of drive-ins, sock hops and soda fountains, filled with boys who tried to look like James Dean, and girls who wanted to be Natalie Wood.

Also winning two Grimmies was Amy Rabideau Silvers of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Her obit for Lorrie Otto, who helped lead the fight to ban the use of DDT in Wisconsin, took Best Obituary (Long Form) about a Well-Known Regional Figure, while her story about educator Evelyn Fefer was honored as Best Obituary (Short Form) about an Average Joe.

Andrew Meacham’s obituary for Neal Alan Smith earned him national media attention when he wrote it last year.

Smith “was pedaling home from his job as a dishwasher at the Crab Shack” Sept. 12, 2010, when a car hit him and threw him off his bicycle. He died of his injuries six days later at age 48.

Meacham wrote:

Shortly after the St. Petersburg Times announced Mr. Smith’s death on its website, a reader posted a comment stating the following: A man who is working as a dishwasher at the Crab Shack at the age of 48 is surely better off dead.

Web editors removed the comment, deeming it an offensive and insensitive insult to a dead man’s friends and family. Though hardly unusual — check out the comments beneath stories about any recent tragedy — this one spurred the Times to make Mr. Smith the subject of this story, as a reminder that every life matters.

Not on hand to accept their awards were three Canadians, all of whom write obituaries for The Globe and Mail.

Philip Fine won the Grimmy for Best Body of Work in Obituary Writing (Long Form) based on five obits. Sandra Martin’s obit for actress Jackie Burroughs earned her the Grimmy for Best Obit about an Internationally Known Figure. And Tom Hawthorn’s obit for wrestler Gene Kiniski was judged Best Obituary Tribute.


This post was contributed by Alana Baranick, a freelance obituary writer who lives in Northeast Ohio. She is director of the Society of Professional Obituary Writers and chief author of Life on the Death Beat: A Handbook for Obituary Writers.