The last word - Shawn Loughlin editorial
Part of me wanted to write an obituary for the Donald Trump presidency, detailing the names of people we’ll never have to think about again, but it seems a bit early for that. Not that I think he’ll win any of his court cases or that there is any validity to any of his ridiculous claims of fraud, I just think it makes sense to let things play out – and see how he leaves the White House – before we bury him.
It got me thinking about obituaries, though.
The natural way to try and write a Trump presidency obituary would be to follow Hunter S. Thompson’s lead and show no mercy. The famous journalist who penned Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas spent most of his career at Rolling Stone covering Richard Nixon with nothing but disdain for the man. So, when he died, Rolling Stone naturally turned to Thompson for an obituary and he didn’t disappoint. “He was a liar and a quitter, and he should have been buried at sea.... But he was, after all, the president,” he begins.
The piece goes on and on and it remains one of the most famous obituaries ever written. Not for its flowery celebration of life, but for its refusal to canonize a vile man simply because he had died. It refused to bow down to the tradition of not speaking ill of the dead.
When I studied journalism in Toronto, we were in the final stages of our class’s issue of Convergence, a magazine that examines the media industry, when Thompson shot himself.
As a fan of Thompson, our instructor gave me the assignment of eulogizing him on our magazine’s back page. Draft after draft was rejected until my teacher urged me to treat the assignment as Thompson would have. He did much of his writing high on a galaxy of drugs and while I’m not a drug person, I didn’t mind a drink, so my instructor encouraged me do a bit of drinking and then put pen to paper. I did and the results were less than spectacular.
To this day, I remember pages of notes, most of them illegible (though anyone who has seen my handwriting knows likely not to entirely blame the booze). My favourite was a half-page under the heading of “important”. I couldn’t read any of it.
In the end, I got some help from a fellow student and I think we did a pretty good job.
I have since had the honour of writing a few obituaries and the reverence has never been lost on me. After my good friend Sarah Mann passed away, my college paper asked me to write something for her. Here at The Citizen, I have added to a number of obituaries when I’m able and I was asked to write an obituary for Ernie Phillips, a local volunteer who spent years hand-engraving the Stanley Cup in Montreal. That was truly an honour and the community certainly appreciated it.
I’m reminded of the lives of those eulogized in the pages of The Citizen every week when Denny and I put together the paper and when I update our website. With a running tally of how many obituaries have been published in that section since our new website was launched a few years ago, I’m reminded that over 600 people have had the final word on their lives printed in The Citizen.
Going back to The Citizen’s founding over 35 years ago, there have been many, many more, but it’s amazing to think about. Six-hundred mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. They have been community leaders, councillors, entrepreneurs, soldiers, teachers, firefighters and police officers. They have been parents, bachelors and Citizens of the Year. They all had lives worth remembering and, in those final words, we all got to know them better.