Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Today's obituary page

I thought today's Daily Death alert from the NY Times was a particularly interesting juxtaposition of people.

First of all, you've got a 50/50 split of men and women. Well, one of each, so it's not that notable. But when you realize, as the NYTpicker does, that in August there were obituaries for 70 men and 6 women, you celebrate the little things. "And for the year 2010 to date, the NYT has chronicled the deaths of 606 men, and only 92 women," the Picker goes on to add.

Is there no female equivalent to the man who invented the Cheeto? Or the man who designed the Greek coffee cup? Those are but two of the dozens of obituaries in the last year commemorating men who weren't particularly famous, but whose achievements earned them attention on the NYT obits page.

Preach it!

So today we've got one man and one woman. The man: Seymour Pine who led the police raid on the Stonewall Inn.

In 2004, Inspector Pine spoke during a discussion of the Stonewall uprising at the New-York Historical Society. At the time of the raid, he said, the police “certainly were prejudiced” against gays, “but had no idea about what gay people were about.” ...

When someone in the audience said Inspector Pine should apologize for the raid, he did.

"His wife of 45 years, the former Judith Handler, died in 1987."

The woman: Virginia B. Smith, "a lawyer and economist who helped shape the contours of higher education as president of Vassar College, as a high public official in Washington and as a member of influential private research groups."

Ms. Smith was chosen to lead Vassar from among 450 candidates for the job partly because she had a strong vision for using the Vassar presidency as a model of innovation for American higher education, said Elizabeth Runkle Purcell, who was chairwoman of the selection committee...Ms. Smith’s appointment as the eighth Vassar president was announced in April 1977. When The New York Times asked her why she had been chosen, she replied matter-of-factly, “Because I was the best qualified.”

Impressive as all get-out, this woman. She is survived by her partner of 57 years, Florence Oaks.

Just such a wonderful study of contrasts and yet themes that resonate still today. I love how the obituaries flesh out history--literally--and how they point to the life we live today.

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