Famous after death

from: Mugtoe
02 Oct 2006

Virginia man becomes famous after death By THANE BURNETT, TORONTO SUN When retired phone company man, Frederic Arthur Clark, died in a car crash last Father's Day, his family expected to be the ones to carry on his memory. But the Virginia dad of two had the last laugh -- and word. In the months that have followed his death, his rare spirit has been carried, via ethernet and modem and torn clippings tacked on refrigerators, to far corners he likely could never have imagined. There was just something about his written legacy which people have found, well, very human. Clark -- not a professional writer, or a politician, or an entry in a Who's Who -- has joined an unusual, post-mortem fraternity. They are the dead who are remembered, and often revered, by countless strangers, as much for their well-penned obituaries as their well-lived lives. "His obit has gone around the world," says Clark's widow, Alice, to whom he was married for 37 years. SIX MONTHS BEFORE Just six months before he died on a roadway in Powhatan County, last June, Clark sat down and wrote his obituary. He had talked about bits and parts for some time. But that night, he put his life together, in a neatly written package. His foresight doesn't seem strange to Alice, who recalls her husband started saving for retirement from the money he made from his childhood paper route. "He said, 'Come read my obituary." recalls Alice, of her husband, who died at 61. "I said, 'I'm not reading that." Fred Clark believed the old notion that both taxes and death are certainty, so why not joke about them both. A strong conservative who dreamed of he and Alice double-dating with Republican icons Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter Clark was not above ranting about taxes and the French. Published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch when Alice finally left hospital after suffering a broken neck in the crash, all 24 lines of his obit are a memorable reminder for loved ones. They were also a rare introduction for 1,324 strangers who've filled an online guest book, and linked to the obit from countless blogs around the world. His account of his own life began: "Frederic Athur (Fred) Clark, who had tired of reading obituaries noting others' courageous battles with this or that disease, wanted it known that he lost his battle as a result of an automobile accident on June 18, 2006." His final hours were spent joking, "while he whimpered, cussed, begged for narcotics and bargained with God to look after his wife and kids," it continued. He wrote how his heart beat faster every time Alice walked into a room and saddened a bit when she left. How his eyes welled up to hear Amazing Grace -- which one of his sons would perform, on a banjo, at his father's funeral. "During his life he excelled at mediocrity," it explained. The obit talked of his love affair with bacon, butter, bourbon and cigars -- though Alice says he didn't drink much. NEVER IN DOUBT "His sons said of Fred, 'He was often wrong, but never in doubt," he penned that December night, inside their Midlothian, Va., home. "When his family was asked what they remembered about Fred, they fondly recalled how Fred never peed in the shower -- on purpose." This sum total legacy of how Fred Clark saw his world is one of the most recent entries in a hallowed gallery -- obits that manage to live on for years and years. Only a very few find this vigorous afterlife. Some owe it all to a single line, including the lead in a British Daily Telegraph obituary in 2001. It was for a sideshow freak who could shove an ice pick into his head without batting an eye. His brilliant obit began: "Anyone who has ever hammered a nail into his nose owes a large debt to Melvin Burkhart." Last year, when Theodore Roosevelt Heller died at 88 in Chicago, his short obit ended: "In lieu of flowers, please send acerbic letters to Republicans." Last year, when 77-year-old Lorna Olive Pulker, a local grandmother, died, she also penned her own final dispatch for the daily paper. It noted she "did not go gently into the dark night." If she didn't mention someone in her obit who would normally be named, it was by design, she pointed out. Apart from visitation details, she ended it with: "Lorna wrote her own obituary and so it stands! That's all she wrote." When 86-year-old Dorothy Gibson Cully died on June 3, 2005, her obit noted the mother of four had died peacefully in the "loving care of her two favorite children." It was a nod to her Irish humour, her family says. As she was on her deathbed, it continued, some of the children made themselves busy with last minute arrangements, including: "Funeral parlour notice, revising the will, etc." It ended with contributions to the local hospice service would be welcomed, but: "Opinions about the details of this obit are not, since Mom would have liked it this way." When Zita James died in Ireland this year at 102 -- part of a well-heeled society of lavish scavenger hunts and parties -- her obit quoted a photographer who often took her picture. He recalled her princely, swinging gait and a "cold glint in her upward slanting eyes". Perhaps the most famous obit of the 20th Century, was from the Telegraph. It was for a blue blood, who had managed to water down his peerage. Still tacked up around many newsrooms -- including the Toronto Sun -- the 1991 necrology began: "The Third Lord Moynihan, who died in Manila, age 55, provided, through his character and career, ample ammunition for critics of the hereditary principle. "His chief occupations were bongo-drummer, confidence trickster, brothel-keeper, drug smuggler and police informer." WEAVE A TALE It went on to weave a tale of bellydancers, cons, political patronage and his marriage to a fire-eater's assistant. The obit noted the lord's favorite quote: "Of the 36 ways of avoiding disaster, running away is the best." The icing on the final notice was a picture of Moynihan, drunken eyes rolled heavenward and collar pulled asunder, his arm around a half-naked Australian showgirl. He went out, in notorious print, with a bang. But Fred Clark's tribute, though not scandalous, was perhaps of an even greater calibre. In it, he mused that his ashes: "Will be fired from his favorite cannon at a private party on the Great Wicomico River where he had a home for 25 years." And that, says Alice, is just what his family did. For his final words, he signed off by requesting: "All of Fred's friend (sic) will be asked to gather in a phone booth ... to have a drink and wonder, 'Fred who?" Having found life after death, that's not likely to happen now.



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