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An Obituary’s History Lesson

Wikimedia Commons / Associated Press

An Obituary’s History Lesson

Henry Rudy Burke (Arizona Republic)The obituary for Henry Rudy A. Burke started out with a simple death sentence that included his age (87), city of residence (Phoenix) and date of death (April 12, 2001). That he was born July 29, 1923, in Los Angeles followed.

And then came the surprise – at least, it was a surprise to me.

During the depression, the family moved to Mexico, like so many other families, to survive.

This may be a well-known fact to folks who live in southern California and other states along the U.S.-Mexico border, but it was news to me. And the phrase, “like so many other families,” put an exclamation point on it.

The obituary is chock full of tidbits that illuminate Burke’s life from his youth – picking celery to help support his family – to his joining the Army Air Corps for wartime service, even though he couldn’t speak English well.

Burke, who went on to earn a master’s degree in education, taught English to secondary school students and English as a second language to adults.

His obit taught me a lot about contemporary American history and perseverance.

I think Burke, the educator, would have been pleased.


This post was contributed by Alana Baranick, a freelance obituary writer. She was the director of the Society of Professional Obituary Writers and chief author of Life on the Death Beat: A Handbook for Obituary Writers before she passed away in 2015.