Newspaper journalism has been described as the first draft of history. For the people Mark Zaborney writes about, the obituary pages are the last draft.
Mr. Zaborney has been writing obituaries for The Blade for 32 years now, and while he also handles other reporting assignments, it is his bylined obituaries for which he is best known by Blade readers.
“For me,” he says, “obituaries are the history of the community, one person at a time.”
It is a history that he takes very seriously, researching Blade files, interviewing family members, talking to funeral directors, gathering what he can of the deceased’s life story, and writing it on deadline.
Nobody works the phones better than he does. His conversations with the family of the deceased often take half an hour or more, and his comforting, soothing style puts the family at ease during a difficult time.
J.Y. Smith, former obituaries editor of the Washington Post, once noted that “the occasion for obituaries is death, which is sad. But the subject of obituaries is life itself, which is wonderful.”
Surely there must be obituaries that stand out. One which he remembers well was the obit for a former Blade colleague, longtime and beloved reporter and columnist Seymour Rothman, who passed away three years ago.
Here is the first paragraph of Mr. Zaborney’s obituary in the June 5, 2013, Blade:
“Seymour Rothman, who in his 55-year Blade career brought an array of real-life characters to the printed page — mobsters and numbers runners and stars of the gridiron, screen, and boardroom — but who also captured the humor and poignancy among everyday Toledoans, died Tuesday in Toledo Hospital. He was 99.”
That’s how you tell a story, folks. That’s how you avoid a dry and dreary recitation of facts and figures.
Journalists who do what he does even have their own organization, the Society of Professional Obituary Writers.
Don’t call Mark Zaborney’s journalistic specialty a “death notice.” It’s a craft that is very much about life.
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