“How to Write a Sterling Obituary – and Why” by Mary Sharp

Mary Sharp, Cedar Rapids Gazette, Iowa editor

Mary Sharp semi-retired from The Gazette in 2011 and spent the next year playing Scrabble on her laptop and, knowing how Act III ends, reading every book she could find on death. She can report many wonderful books await anyone similarly possessed. 

In that year, she also began reading obituaries. As a lifelong journalist, she’d written many a quick “news” obit when a noteworthy person died. They were OK but not much better than the obits where people were paying 50 cents a word to say Mom loved her family. The obituary-writing genre, she decided, needed an infusion of storytelling, honesty, and even humor. She began collecting interesting and entertaining obituaries and presented those in a paper for the Cedar Rapids Literary Club. 

What do you want your last words to the world to say? Sharp hopes this presentation will cause you and your loved ones to think about that question, to maybe write that first draft. 

Sharp, with a degree in history and graduate work in American studies, had no choice but to become a journalist because she wasn’t qualified to do anything else. She worked as a reporter at newspapers in Burlington and Ottumwa, Iowa, and as an editor in Ottumwa and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Champaign-Urbana, Ill. She was a science writer at Lawrence Berkeley Lab in Berkeley, Calif., and even spent a few years doing honorable p.r. And because she has no hobbies outside of reading books, she’s still working part-time as a copy editor for The Gazette, where people are nice enough to still pretend to listen to her