Published in the Pawtucket Times, March 22, 2013
Once upon a time, the New York Times was reputed to publish the best, the most colorful obituaries that wove resume-like facts and personal stories together, to concisely sum up a person’s life and death. Now the legendary daily newspaper has competition. With the passing of Harry Weathersby Stamps on March 9, 2013, his obituary was printed in the Sun Herald, his hometown newspaper. The daily paper, covering South Mississippi, called it “the best obit ever.” I totally agree. More interesting to me is that the obituary, written by his daughter, has gone viral on Twitter and Facebook, and emails, receiving rave reviews around the world. .
During a very long drive to Long Beach, Mississippi, where Stamps had died at home, surrounded by family, daughter Amanda Lewis, an attorney at Irving, Texas-based TRT Holdings, penned the obituary [edited by her sister Alison Stamps] of her eighty-year old father, a former educator at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College at the Jeff Davis Campus.
Lewis’s colorful, light-hearted and humorous 841 word obituary, detailing her father’s extreme quirky, likes and dislikes, has now caught the attention of the nation through the news media, even the entire world via the world-wide web.
So who was Harry Stamps?
According to Lewis, her father was a “ladies’ man,” “foodie,” “natty dresser,” and even a “accomplished traveler.” He disliked phonies, she noted, especially “know-it-all Yankees, Southerners who used the words ‘veranda’ and ‘porte cochere’ to put on airs, eating grape leaves, Law and Order (all franchises), cats, and even Martha Stewart. That is in reverse order, she quipped.
But he did love his 1969 Volvo.
As to the important women throughout his eight decades, there were many, Lewis reveals in the published obituary. Almost 50 years ago her father married his “main squeeze, Ann Moore, a home economics teacher, raising two girls, Amanda and Alison, she said.
Lewis fondly remembers that her father taught her along with her sister how “to fish, to select a quality hammer, to love nature, and to just be thankful,” taking “great pride in stocking their tool boxes.”
The obituary notes that Stamps beloved mother, the late Wilma Hatzog, raised him in his teenage years with the help of her sisters and cousins in New Hebron.“He worshipped his older sister Lynn Stamps Garner (deceased), a character in her own right, and her daughter Lynda Lightsey of Hattiesburg,” Lewis said.
More over, Lewis says that her father loved his grandchildren. “He took extreme pride in his two grandchildren Harper Lewis (8) and William Stamps Lewis (6) of Dallas for whom he would crow like a rooster on their phone calls, she said.
Who Says Politics and Religion Don’t Mix?
As to politics, “One of his regrets was not seeing his girl, Hillary Clinton, elected President,” adds Lewis, who noted that her father was a former government and sociology professor. She shared that Stamps, with an interest in both politics and religion, “enjoyed watching politicians act like preachers and preachers act like politicians.”
Lewis remembers him often saying, “I am not running for political office or trying to get married” when he was “speaking the truth.” .
The obituary noted that over Stamp’s lifetime, he had developed culinary tastes for particular delicacies. Her father made his “signature” bacon and tomato sandwich with “100% all white Bunny Bread from Georgia, Blue Plate mayonnaise from New Orleans, Sauer’s black pepper from Virginia, home grown tomatoes from outside Oxford, and Tennessee’s Benton bacon from his bacon-of-the-month subscription.”
He even openly had “a life-long love affair with deviled eggs, Lane cakes, boiled peanuts, Vienna [pronounced Vi-e-na] sausages on saltines, his homemade canned fig preserves, pork chops, turnip greens, and buttermilk served in martini glasses garnished with cornbread,” she admitted.
Juggling Many Hobbies in Retirement
What does Stamps’ obituary say about his many hobbies and leisure activities?
Her farther, having green thumbs, “excelled at growing camellias,” says Lewis. His knack for carpentry, were just the skills needed for “rebuilding houses after hurricanes [like Katrina],” she notes.
Because history was important to Stamps, he would read any history book he could get his hands on, Lewis said. As for his love of cable programming, the history buff “loved to use his oversized ‘old man’ remote control, which thankfully survived Hurricane Katrina, to flip between watching The Barefoot Contessa and anything on The History Channel,“ she added.
“Rocking,” eradicating mole crickets from his front yard,” composting pine needles,” living within his means,” and even “outsmarting squirrels, never losing a game of competitive sickness,” also tweaked his interest, too, in his later years, Lewis observed.
As to military service, “he also took pride in his service during the Korean conflict, serving the rank of corporal–just like Napoleon, as he would say,” Lewis penned in the obituary. .
Lewis acknowledged that her father “took fashion cues from no one.” Usually his daily dress, was a “plain pocketed T-shirt designed by the fashion house Fruit of the Loom. Black-label elastic waist shorts were worn above the navel and sold exclusively at the Sam’s on Highway 49. He sported a pair of old school Wallabees. But most will remember his wearing of a grass-stained MSU baseball cap, she said.
On his many family vacations, Lewis remembered her father “only stayed in the finest quality AAA-rated campgrounds, his favorite being Indian Creek outside Cherokee, North Carolina.” The avid outdoorsman always upgraded his tent rental to have a creek view. Later in life he would purchase a used pop-up camper for “his family to travel in style, which spoiled his daughters for life,” she said.
The obituary concluded by noting that a private, family only service would be held, because of Stamps’ “irrational fear that his family would throw him a golf-themed funeral despite his hatred for the sport.” A “theme” free funeral was held.
The family urged friends, and colleagues of Stamps to “write your Congressman and ask for the repeal of Day Light Savings Time.” Why? Stamps wanted “everyone to get back on the Lord’s Time.”
Stamps Obituary Goes Viral
On a very slow news day, the “finely crafted words of this loving tribute” published in the Sun Herald quickly spread, from one person to another by Facebook postings, Tweeting, and emails, sending the heartwarming obituary viral, from Long Beach to all corners of the world, noted Vice President and Executive Editor Stan Tiner, in his March 14th column touching on Lewis’ “seamless” obituary.
“In the days that followed, the tsunami-like power of the Harry Stamps obituary washed away records on our website, with only Hurricane Katrina remaining above this viral surge of page views,” said an amazed Tiner in his column, who noted within days the company’s website recorded a whopping 530,000 page views with the obituary drawing a considerable part of that traffic. Even the following day visits exceeded 500,000 page views, he said.
Meanwhile, a front page story in the Sun Herald about the previously printed “well crafted” obituary attracted reader interest, in the next days becoming the newspapers “all-time single-story record-holder with more than 100,000 page views,” added Tiner.
“Untold thousands heralded the late college dean and the perfect obituary. One tweet called him “the most interesting man in the world,” said Tiner in his column, noting that Stamps “everyman common sense, taste and humor brought to mind a modern-day Will Rogers.”
Yes, Lewis’ colorfully-written obituary clearly details her father’s total persona, his spirit, most certainly, his uniqueness. In life, he chose to march to a different drummer, his family knew this and accepted it, too. In death, his life story told by his obituary keeps his memory alive in the hearts of his wife, Ann, daughters Amanda and Alison, and to the millions of people, including this columnist, who now know him.
To see the original obituary, go to http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/sunherald/obituary.aspx?pid=163538353#storylink=cpy
Herb Weiss, LRI ’12 is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers health care, aging and medical issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.