A Tribute to the Tribute Writer

By Bob Sparrow

record breaking     I want to sincerely thank my sister for writing such a wonderful blog last week; it was ‘record-breaking’ – the most hits in a single day (nearly 400), the most hits in a week (700 and still counting at press time) and the most comments ever on one post (21 and counting); plus 3 more people subscribed to our blog!  Which we love!  And I’d also like to thank her for putting me in the position of having to follow that masterpiece!

     After reading and seeing the reaction to that post, I immediately realized that my blog ideas for this week, ‘Is that Grandma that got run over by a reindeer covered by Obamacare?’ and ‘Is the Grinch really retired and living in Palm Beach?’ seemed a bit trifling; plus I think my sister deserves to bask in her success a bit longer; so as any ace reporter would do in my position, I called her for an interview.  She agreed.

BS (that’s me): Why do you think this tribute to Leslie was so widely read and commented upon?

SW (that’s her): First of all, it is a reflection of Leslie and the great esteem people had for her.  Once she was your friend, she was your friend for life.  I think she found people inherently interesting and “collected” friends throughout her life.  She was always fascinated by people – what they did for a living, their interests, and their political beliefs.  She was never judgmental, even if she disagreed.  I think she absorbed everyone’s information and gleaned some portion that she could relate to and then built a friendship on that.  As someone said, she had a knack for making everyone feel that they were her best friend.92730032

The second reason I think people responded to it is that, at some level, people can relate to losing someone special.  We got a lot of comments and they ran the spectrum from “I also have a childhood friend that I cherish” to “I haven’t talked with my childhood friend in a long time and this has prompted me to call.”

A third reason is that friends and family members ‘shared’ the blog on social media with their friends, something we’re always happy about when our reader like or appreciate what we’ve written.

BS: What is it about the special relationship you had with Leslie that you remember the most?

SW: I think that the first friends you make outside of your family are ones that make the greatest impression.  Remember,tribute Leslie and I met when we were seven years old.  Now it seems like we were still babies, although she was smart enough to swindle me with the soap!  We became part of each other’s family.  Both of our mother’s took to praising – and correcting – us as if we were her own daughter.  As kids, there weren’t a lot of distractions so our time was spent in each other’s bedrooms playing games, running around outside in the open fields, or our weekend walks to the Five and Dime.  I couldn’t tell you what we ever talked about but what sticks with me is the closeness that we had.  We told each other everything and even into adulthood we were always very honest with each other – there were no pretenses or “putting a good face” on anything.  She had my back and I had hers, so we really were like sisters.

BS: You’ve written several tributes and they’ve all been well received; why do you think they resonate so well with our readers?

SW: I think that often times we don’t get the full picture of someone from an obituary.  Obituaries, which are more factual in nature, typically tell what the person did; a tribute conveys who the person was.  Plus, with the advent of social media, a tribute can be seen by far more people than an obituary in a newspaper would allow.  I started doing tributes a few years ago when a friend died and did not have any survivors.  I thought it was important that her life be recognized in some way and that people get a full picture of who she was.  I always like to tell stories and include pictures so that anyone reading them, whether they knew the person or not, comes away with an appreciation for how special the person was.

Tahoe_1965 (2)

Leslie & Suzanne, both 15, with Mom & Dad at Tahoe

BS: You make a good point about the difference between an obituary and a tribute. Have you ever written a tribute about someone still living? The reason I ask is that Linda put together what amounted to be a ‘living tribute’ for her father last year, who was turning 90. The idea was to gather family and friends together while he was still alive to show and tell him how much he was loved.

SW: Yes, I’ve written several tributes for people still living and I agree, I think Leslie would have been blown away by the wonderful comments that people have made about her.  I wish that she was here to read them. I think a ‘living tribute’ is a way to let people know how special they are when they are still around to hear it.

BS: I’ll ask this next questions with some trepidation; now that our readers have confirmed that you are one terrific tribute writer, do you think they’ll be asking you to write their next tribute?

SW: I do this because  I love it, almost as much as my dog, Dash.  We’ll see what the future brings.  For now, I’m just happy that Leslie’s family and friends were able to get a better insight into her early life.

BS: Well said, thanks for the interview Sis

SW: You’re most welcome; does this mean it’s my turn again to write next week?

BS: Maybe.  Merry Christmas!



By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

How I started my morning

How I started my morning

I don’t know about you, but I’m finding it very hard to find any good news these days.  This morning our local paper was a virtual smorgasbord of bad tidings….ebola, ISIS, a volatile stock market…all things that are probably in your newspaper as well.  In addition to the scary national and world news, I also have to absorb all of the LOCAL bad news.  Today’s lowlights include stories about an 8-year-old found starving in a drug den, the shooting of a police officer and more layoffs at a major employer.  As if all that weren’t enough, my favorite ice cream parlor has closed!  Some days it’s just too much to handle.  I admit that I am a dinosaur when it comes to getting my news – I still like a newspaper.  I guess it comes from being the daughter of a newspaper publisher.  I suppose I could limit my reading to the more frivolous fare downloaded on my iPad so my day could start with TMZ reports or updates on Pinterest.  I would probably be a lot happier, albeit less informed.  But for now I’m sticking to the printed page and I have found a spot where I can consistently find good news:  the obituaries.


I need to state right off that there are definitely categories of obituaries that are NOT uplifting.  Any notice about children is tragic on the face of it and often brings a tear to my eye.  I also feel for the people who die “before their time”, although I guess if they’ve died it was their time.  My definition of dying too young has changed a bit over the years.  I used to think that anyone who died before age 60 was sad but not completely unexpected.  Now as I approach Senior Citizenship, I’ve decided that anyone who dies before they get to collect their Social Security checks has died too young.  After all, if you make contributions all of those years and never get to collect, then it really was a bad deal and you could have spent that money on wine, (wo)men and song.  Luckily, the vast majority of obituaries are written about people who are well past Social Security and most of them have lived pretty darn interesting lives.  In fact, rather than finding the obituaries depressing, I think of them as living history – reading about the people who were part of our community and how they fit into the fabric of our lives.

A typical obit picture of a man who died in his 80's

A typical obit picture of a man who died in his 80’s

I love the quarter-page obits, where you learn interesting tidbits such as where the deceased went to grammar school and what their favorite type of pie was.  But even the ordinary tributes often give a wonderful insight into a life well-led.  Today there was a notice about a woman who was described as outgoing, loved a good card game with her family, took part in an animal rescue organization and danced with a senior citizens group.  Makes me wish that I had known her.   I did read one recently that listed EVERY job the man held at an oil company over a thirty year career; that was a bit over the top even for me.  The best obituaries are generally written by children and include great tributes to the departed’s love of family, favorite jokes or legacy of examples set.  These days there are a dwindling number of obits about WWII veterans but being somewhat of a connoisseur of the well-written obit, I assure you that they are almost ALWAYS the most interesting.  Often they include the theaters of operations the person served in, the major battles, and oftentimes something about how fond the deceased was of his fellow “buddies”.  As if to prove just how important those years were, the photo accompanying the story is not of the person in old age, but as they looked during their time in service 60 years ago.  Of course, obituary pictures in general should never be relied on for accuracy since most people choose a photo that resembles them only on the most flattering day of their lives.  There was a decade or so where those old “glamour shots” were a popular obit choice and believe me, nothing looks more out-of-place than a story about an 89-year-old woman accompanied by a picture with the wind machine blowing so hard she looks like a dog with its head out the window.

Finally, there are the truly humorous final notices.  Generally these have been written by the deceased and serve to set a tone of how they wish to be remembered.  There was one circulating on Facebook this past summer about a ex-advertising man in Pennsylvania who wrote, “Kevin J. McGroarty, 53, of West Pittston, died Tuesday, July 22, 2014, after battling a long fight with mediocrity.”  He went on to explain about his mis-spent youth and exhorted his friends “don’t email me anymore, I’m dead”.  It was a fairly long piece and you get the feeling that Mr. McGroarty took great pleasure crafting it in his final days.  That’s a luxury, I suppose, that we all would like to have.

So as you read the paper or watch the news over the next few days and you begin to feel depressed, turn to the obituary page.  I promise you’ll find something to boost your spirits, inspire your day or, if you’re really lucky, make you laugh.


By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Bob's 70th

Bob, his wife Linda,their son, daughters, their husbands and two VERY cute grandchildren

It is an unfortunate fact that oftentimes in life we don’t let people know how we feel about them until we’re delivering their eulogy.  We assume, we presume, we procrastinate.  And then we end up saying something to the effect of, “Gee, I never told him how I really feel about him.”

Fortunately this will not be the case for my brother Bob.  Our entire family gathered this past weekend to celebrate his 70th birthday and as all our family gatherings tend to be, it was filled with laughter, good story-telling (mostly true but not always), and some sentimental tears. One of Bob’s daughters arranged for 70 different people to write a tribute to him. As he reads them hopefully he will realize that from the time he was a small boy until today, he has been a much-admired person.  We should all be so lucky to have an experience such as this.  So with your indulgence, my blog today is an edited version of my tribute to Bob…a truly great brother.


Dear Bob,

I can’t believe you are 70 years old today!  Boy, you are OLD.  But, make no mistake, in very good shape.  For your age…and considering that your hips and knees are shot.  And we don’t even want to think about your liver.  But today we mark this important milestone and let you know how very special you are.  I’m sure you will get lots of notes and cards from family and friends to mark this significant birthday.  But only one person can tell you what a great big brother you have been – and that’s me.

Our relationship started out a bit rocky.  After all, I was the interloper who caused you, at age 7, to go from the baby of the family to the middle child.  So you did what all big brothers do with pesky younger sisters – you figured out ways to torment me.

As adults, however, we found a lot of common ground.   We both have a reverence for books and, of course, enjoy writing.  But first and foremost is our shared sense of humor.  We both think we’re pretty funny, which is good because sometimes other people don’t.  Pop was a big influence on us, of course, but you always added a wry spin to a story or took pleasure in the outrageous.  I still laugh when I think about the messages you used to leave at my office.  Like the one you left when I was well into middle age:  “Please tell Suz that her A.A. meeting tonight has been cancelled.”  I explained to my secretary, “That’s just my brother – he has a very funny sense of humor.”  I’m not sure she ever saw me in quite the same way again.

As I thought about my lifetime of memories with you, there are two stories from our childhood that kept coming back to me.  I think that’s because these two stories, of you as a boy, portend the wonderful man you would become.


Jack, Suz and Bob …around 1955.

The first story is actually my first memory in life, in 1954 or 55.  The three of us were in the backseat of Dad’s station wagon, on our way to Playland at the Beach in San Francisco.  As Playland came into sight, you suddenly shot up out of your seat and shouted, “Look!  There it is!!  We’re here!”  I was so surprised by your sudden movement and unbridled enthusiasm that even today the memory of it is fresh.  Once there you soaked it all in – Laughing Sal, the Fun House, the carnival rides and the shooting galleries.  You even gave me one of your prizes.  On the way home you were completely satisfied – you had been someplace exciting and done something fun.  Today, you are still that boy, enthused about travel, excited to go someplace new, and still generous in spirit.

My second memory is of an event a few years later.  I had committed some infraction and was sent up to my room without dinner.  I was scared to be alone, but I trudged up the stairs and heaved myself onto my bed, sobbing.  A short while later you came to my room, carrying a bowl of soup.  I cried on your shoulder, scared to be alone while you were all downstairs eating.  Then you noticed that an ant had crawled onto my hand.  You watched as it crawled around my fingers and you assured me it would stay with me and be my friend.  But you were wrong.  My friend in the room that day was you.  All throughout your life you have been a good friend to many people, but no one has been more appreciative of your friendship than me.  Today, you continue to be thoughtful and caring, especially with children, whether it is through your work at Ronald McDonald House, your CASA companion, or your own grandchildren, Dylan and Emma.


Jack, Suz and Bob – 2013 and we still love each other!

All of my life you have been a constant source of support, whether in times of joy or times of trouble, to offer perspective and humor, kindness and help.  We are all so lucky – we three – to have each other not only as siblings but as friends.  To want to spend time together and savor each moment.  And in part that is due to you, the middle child, the glue that keeps the three parts together.

As much as I love to write, I will never be able to find the words to adequately express how very much you mean to me.  Just know that I love you with all of my heart and that you have been a very positive influence in my life.  I am so very lucky to have you as a big brother.

Happy 70th Birthday, Bob!