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Less Than Saintly

Published: 1/23/2012
We obituary writers sometimes pass on writing obits for the less-than-saintly – not because we’re timid, but because such obits, though often fascinating, can be more trouble than they’re worth.

Amy Rabideau Silvers, the designated obit writer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, reflected on such an obit from 2011 for the New Year’s Day edition of the paper.

In her story – Taxidermist’s obituary was too problematic to write – Silvers recounts seeing the family-prepared obit for Gilbert Stieg, which enticed her to consider writing a news obituary for him.

Gilbert Stieg (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
Gilbert Stieg (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)


It went on to say that Stieg worked as a taxidermist for the Milwaukee Public Museum and later as the director of the Racine County Museum, Silvers wrote in her Jan. 1 article.

A routine search turned up a juicy old news item about someone attempting to hire Stieg as a hit man. (To Stieg's credit, he reported the job offer to authorities, she wrote.)

A 1984 story in The Milwaukee Journal told how officers had found Stieg's car abandoned on the roadway, traced it back to his residence, and ended up finding 20 marijuana plants in the home.

Silvers interviewed Stieg’s daughter, who filled in some other not-so-flattering details from his life.

Ultimately, though, Gilbert Stieg's life was a bit too problematic to portray accurately as a feature obituary, Silvers wrote.

“He was a very likable guy, but he was not an outstanding citizen,” his daughter said.

***

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

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