One would imagine that Obituaries are a morbid topic, after all it is all about looking back at someones life, after the event. However well written obituaries provide an interesting insight into the lives and challenges others faced before us, a historical record, indeed it is a shame that humanitarian and development workers don’t have an obituary ‘site’ imagine the wealth of experience and lessons it could capture!
Of course one typically only hears about the lives of fascinating and often influential people, as ever however it is the intricate stories of unsung heroes and mundane lives that I find particularly interesting.
Igor Sergeyev a military commander who rose to First Marshall of the Russian Armed Forces and Minister of Defence was sacked after the disastrous failed Kursk rescue attempt. As a General by simply being attentive, honest, responsible and focused on his job he is probably the one individual that cajoled, negotiated and badgered away to ensure that nuclear material from the huge arsenal of Russia’s long range nuclear weaponry did not go awry and leak into the underworld. Other recent obituaries by the economist include: Markus Wolf a former East German Symaster, a Jew, his Stasi team routinely outwitted its bumbling West German rivals. Bulent Ecevit a Turkish prime minister and poet who ordered Turkish troops into Cyprus and enjoyed a fondness for Hindu mysticism and Sanskrit verse. And Eric Newby a travel writer and fashion buyer who would travel on little but in the best possible taste. Like many of his generation served in the war and in his case was interned in Italian camps.
To get a cross section of American lives the New York Times provides a diverse cross-section, for example David Cockrun a comic book artist who re-invented the X-men and the Marvel Comic with other characters in the mid 70’s and before that worked on Superman, Batman and Flash. Or Rhodes W.Fairbridge who died at 92 in time to see his passion become mainstream. A pioneer on Climate Change in the early 1960s, he developed the Fairbridge curve, a record of changes in sea levels over the last 10,000 years. His graph showed periodic dips and spikes in levels, against a larger trend of rising ocean waters. Among other indicators it is considered to be early evidence of a larger trend in global climate change resulting in the melting of glaciers and continental ice sheets. In plotting his curve, Dr. Fairbridge looked at high-water marks recorded in fossilized dunes and reefs and later made more eclectic observations of climate fluctuation.
For a different view on a society check their obituaries, sadly they may be hard to find in your own language, when checking Arabic papers for this blog, I was unable to find any obituaries in English. This is sad since a chronicle of the past is an insight into the present and future
And you mustn’t forget those bloggers, The blog of Death is a rather unusual place to start, the TaxProf Blog and Jacks Blog are more typical. GoogObits will help you find list of obituaries and of course wikiobit a database of obituaries for everyone by everyone, and new media approaches are emerging Obit Earth encourages use of Google Earth to mark the place of significant events in a deceased persons life, and raises the intriguing possibilities of marking maps with pictures and other data! YouTube has many video obituaries.
After a lifetime of balancing family life, with emotional crises, illness, heartache, joy, pleasure and of course work. Perhaps there is a small measure of comfort in knowing that in some way we are having an impact on the lives of others like so many before and so many to come. But perhaps, just perhaps everyone of us leaves our mark on the world by simply getting on with our lives. Some may put this article down to old age, perhaps, perhaps it is due to experience in in-secure environments, rather I would propose that we should use reflection and celebration of others lives as an opportunity to learn and advocate the humanitarian and development work we are all involved in.