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The Best Obituaries of 2019

by Stephen Segal

These unforgettable tributes share the amazing lives of everyday people.

What makes a great obituary? Here at Legacy, we see thousands of memorial tributes every week. They all do the job of letting family and friends know that a loved one has passed — but some of them go way above and beyond that to tell fantastic stories, leaving either laughter or lumps in our throats. (Sometimes, both.) Here are some of the most touching obituaries we’ve read so far in 2019.

Sue Casey (1926-2019): “Sue swam at the side of Esther Williams in MGM’s aqua-extravaganzas, sun-bathed in ‘Rear Window,’ partied with a sharp-clawed cat in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s,’ and shimmied next to future-dictator Fidel Castro in ‘Holiday in Mexico’ (you can Google it). Sue experienced a few vertiginous frissons when seeing many of her friends and lovers memorialized on postage stamps and one largish U.S. coin.” (Read Sue’s obituary.)

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Emile T. Pappas (1925-2019): “When he told his father that he had stock in a company called Coke a Cola, his father made him take them back and exchange them for the coins to which he was promised. After all, there was a Depression on.” (Read Emile’s obituary.)

Lewis Coleman (1954-2019): “A man of many words and stories, some factual and others not so factual… A man of true integrity, never giving a cripple crab a crutch under any circumstances, regardless of the fact that no one has any idea of what that saying means.” (Read Lewis’s obituary.)

Delores O’Brien Wise (1931-2019): “She was an excellent cook who embraced her Polish heritage and could make killer cabbage rolls and pierogi. She could even change a light bulb all by herself!… Her pool parties were legendary. It didn’t matter who you were, you could count on three things: Good food, good drink and getting thrown into the pool…. She traveled all over the globe. From smuggling in Poland, hallucinogenic elephant rides in Thailand to table dancing in Spain, there was never a dull moment traveling with her.” (Read Delores’s obituary.)

Tim Schrandt (1955-2019): “Despite his crusty exterior, cutting remarks and stubbornness, there is actual evidence that he was a loving, giving and caring person. That evidence is the deep sorrow and pain in our hearts that his family feels from his passing…. Tim led a good life and had a peaceful death — but the transition was a bitch. And for the record, he did not lose his battle with cancer. When he died, the cancer died, so technically it was a tie!” (Read Tim’s obituary.)

Gertrude Slom Merlin (1920-2019): “She hid from the Nazis for several months, but was eventually taken from her home in the middle of the night, just as has been portrayed in many movies. She never saw her parents, two of her sisters, or her brother again…. Once she was punished for searching the garbage for rotted potatoes; she was beaten and given nothing to eat for a week.” (Read Gertrude’s obituary.)

Maria Burgee Dwight (2019): “Her adolescence at the Northampton School for Girls earned the comment on her report card that ‘Mimi is a good student, but she seems inordinately interested in boys.’ They were interested back…. She fed and mothered a vast extended family of skate rats, actors, hard-core musicians, activists, surfers, students, co-workers, artists and writers, as well as her own brood. She was equally comfortable with senators, governors and CEOs as with members of the Flesh Eaters, Dream Syndicate and Sonic Youth. And she was admired and adored by them all.” (Read Maria’s obituary.)

Aldona Zalnieriunas (1933-2019): “Aldona was clear-eyed about death, torn between leaving her children and their offspring (she was happiest with a well-stocked fridge and family crowded around her dining table) and joining the love of her life, Victor. They met at a wedding in the 1950s, danced all night and never parted until Victor died from cancer, stretching out his life as promised until the eve of their 55th wedding anniversary. They were a romantic, through-thick-and-thin couple, dancing to scratchy records, scrimping to pay the mortgage, cuddling on the sofa.” (Read Aldona’s obituary.)

Geoffrey L. Turner (2019): “I was an idiot who made the same stupid decision, day-after-day, multiple times per day. I was a smoker and even though I knew it may eventually kill me, I chose to deny the truth to myself. The pain and suffering I caused my family was not worth the perceived “satisfaction” that really did nothing more than waste money, separate me from my family, and eventually destroyed my body.” (Read Geoffrey’s obituary.)

Jenna Rae Tatro (1992-2019): “In her short time on this earth, Jenna’s journey was like a rock thrown into a lake: sending ripples ever outward into the future. Your addiction doesn’t define you. Jenna was a writer, a traveler, a poet, a thinker. She loved animals and music, and her friendships and family ignited the hearth that was her heart…. If you are struggling with addiction right now, she would tell you: there is always hope. Never, ever, give up. The ripples of Jenna’s journey are still seen today: in every cousin she babysat, or her friends who will live in her honor.” (Read Jenna’s obituary.)

Ret. MSG Christopher David Kluck (1962-2019): “As a Green Beret, or as he liked to call himself, ‘a steely-eyed barrel-chested freedom fighter,’ he operated mostly throughout Central and South America…. Chris had several claims to fame: he and Angie were extras in several movies and TV shows (his favorite being his death scene in Sleepy Hollow); he made it to the Showcase Showdown on the Price is Right; he claimed he invented the ‘Guess what? Chicken butt!'” joke (FYI, he didn’t)…. When he lost his leg to cancer in 2008, he joked that he was going to open an IHOP.” (Read Chris’s obituary.)

Ashley Ann Kuzma (1987-2019): “When you have recurrent laryngeal cancer that just won’t take no for an answer, you have a lot of time to think about death. The good thing is I no longer have to worry about saving for retirement, paying off student loans, or trying not to get skin cancer??? One positive outcome from having recurrent cancer was that it taught me to let go of the insignificant things and to just enjoy the people and places.” (Read Ashley’s obituary.)

Esther Vegan Hustvedt (1923-2019): “Courage and humor at unlikely moments were crucial to her inimitable personality. When she slipped and fell, she laughed. When the dog ate the roast, when she put pepper instead of cardamom in her rolls, when the old family car broke down a mile from home after making it to the West Coast and back, she howled with laughter…. In 1979, she had breast cancer. When she heard the news, her response was typical: ‘Why not me?'”  (Read Esther’s obituary.)

Isabelle Hickingbotham Monteleone (1918-2019) “died peacefully in her sleep… almost exactly a year after family and friends held an early 100th birthday celebration for her. Born in Peru, Massachusetts, December 15, 1918… she started life where a brook fed water to a hand pump in the house and the family raised its own vegetables, chickens and pigs. Isabelle’s lifelong sense of reality and clear-eyed approach to the world was born on that small working farm. Through two marriages, work with paratroopers in World War II, three children and a series of careers…” (Read Isabelle’s obituary.)

Peter Redfield Hoover (1939-2019): “He busted out of Harvard in 1958, preferring to study Appalachian string band music rather than chemistry. To support himself, he worked as a time-study man at a meatpacking plant in South Boston, and recalled riding home after work on the T, with huge baloneys tucked under his arm, benefit of his job. Because he knew how they were made, he would never again eat a hotdog.” (Read Peter’s obituary.)

Ashley Alexandra Katherine Allen (1992-2019): “Ashley’s doctor called after her passing and told us, ‘All people die, but not all people live.’ Ashley lived! She packed so much life into her twenty-seven years. She traveled, rode horses, chased her dreams, worked in a profession she loved, fell in love, mended a broken heart and still put one foot in front of the other battling what she knew from the start was an incurable cancer. She did so with grace, dignity, integrity and courage.” (Read Ashley’s obituary.)

Read also: The Four Most Remarkable Obituaries of 2018

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