Opining on obituaries

I was one of more than a hundred people who attended the memorial for Jay Corley recently. The family organized a letter-perfect event. Perhaps it’s helpful, here at SWIG, to step back and recognize how important every ‘little’ detail is in something like this.

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Where’s the PR here? In honoring someone’s life, you’re telling and re-telling their story. You’re defining their image, how you want them to be remembered, making sure the listeners know of the person’s achievements, accomplishments and above all, get a sense of his or her personality and uniqueness.

The obituary appeared in the local papers, with details of the memorial.

The winery’s website shared the sad news with an elegant photo with a biographical caption.

Speakers were chosen and asked to address different time periods of Jay’s life as well as his wide-ranging interests. Some chose to speak from notes; others not; everything flowed without any missteps.

It made me reflect on my experience some years ago assisting in writing the eulogy for a wine industry figure whose service took place at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. The Governor delivered the eulogy, and it required more than the average number of re-writes: I learned a lot about how a eulogy is an extremely unusual speech, needing to be descriptive and personal, yet not showy in terms of language or style.

Back to Jay Corley’s memorial: There was a touch of the spiritual. There were baskets of tissues and understated white flowers wherever you turned. The program, in color, included numerous illustrations and photos, of Jay, of his favorite expressions as displayed on his desk and more. There was a room devoted to photos and favorite memorabilia, with a book to sign. There was food and of course, abundant wine, as well as touches such as a popcorn machine and an ice cream ‘stand.’ The family played it safe with a tent, putting it up the day before in the rain, only to have the day of the memorial be clear and even a touch sunny.

One of the toughest things a publicist can do is to guide a family or a business through a memorial or a funeral. What can you do to get ready or be prepared? The basics of the event are easy: it’s the nuances of what the person was like which are key. That means….pay attention to those around you; soak up their stories and the texture of their lives…in case you need to re-create that life and paint a picture one day in a eulogy or an obituary.

One thought on “Opining on obituaries

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