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Obits say a lot

by Mike Masterson | May 1, 2022 at 1:40 a.m.

I read the daily paper front to back, pausing when I happen across a headline or lead paragraph that captures my attention.

The handy-dandy iPad supplied by the paper with my subscription makes it easy to spend two hours over coffee reading each morning.

Very often I find items deemed worthy of an opinion, which is what I do nowadays.

I've written previously about how very little of us remains after our passing if we spent most of it trying to impress others with our importance, achievements and recognitions. Those ego-inflators all wind up buried alongside us, with all those frames and plaques in a landfill.

What does provide an enviable legacy are all those things we did for others. How did we help improve and enhance the lives of fellow human beings, even on seemingly small levels? Did we choose to be remembered one day for having been predictably self-absorbed, aloof, combative, angry, unfriendly, self-inflated or generally nasty toward others?

Further evidence is found in obituaries we've published. Here's what I mean:

Kristina Elizabeth Kamm Young, 45, was a "source of calm, strength, and hope for so many of her many friends and family. Every breath she took was a gift to this world ... ."

Loyd Wayne Phillips, 75: "Loyd's focus was always on helping students succeed ... he also impacted many lives with his compassion and wisdom."

Thomas Chastain, 91: "He spent most of his life in some kind of service to the people."

Obituary pages across Arkansas regularly carry justifiable tributes to the caring among us who've come and gone, leaving things for others better than when they'd arrived.

What no longer matters after we board the train out of here is a detailed list of the recognitions and professional honors received in this strange world that once provided bullet points in the deceased's now-irrelevant resume.

Archaic reservations

In a discussion around the coffee group table the other day, Rob Thomason, a respected tribal leader in his Native American tribe, and I agreed that continuing to relegate American Indians to reservations is often archaic and harmful.

In 1989 our investigative team at the Arizona Republic spent nine months investigating widespread corruption in federal Indian programs. The resulting special section, "Fraud in Indian Country: A Billion Dollar Betrayal," proved that point.

We spent one section exploring how detrimental the reservations, many of which had become little more than ghettos in several ways, damaged their health, spirits, ancestry and proud tribal cultures.

'Inaccurate,' lazy me?

In a recent letter to the Voices editor topped by the headline, "Inaccurate description," reader Kenneth Weber of Greenbrier took issue with my recent column about the historic Christian-based College of the Ozarks in Missouri.

The nationally ranked private liberal arts Christian college with 1,500 male and female students is suing the Biden administration over the question of continuing to maintain equal female and male accommodations provided by that school.

The issue remains before the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. If not appealed to the Supreme Court, its ruling will decide the question of whether colleges can continue to allow separate men's and women's accommodations.

Neither this valued Greenbrier reader nor I can say who will legally prevail in such an important dispute.

In closing, Kenneth couldn't resist a personal gig (I've come to expect those, and it helps explain his position) when he added, "at one time Mike was an excellent journalist as he will often inform us. Has he now become too lazy to check facts before writing such drivel as this?"

I assume he was referring to the same drivel published by the Wall Street Journal in an op-ed by the president of the College of the Ozarks about the nature of the school's federal lawsuit, which I consider informative to the public, especially the thousands of Arkansas alums of that respected college affectionately known as Hard Work University.

While I respect opinions of others who read and write to express them, I occasionally find myself feeling a need to again explain that, for more than two decades, I've been writing my personal opinions rather than hard news and investigative reporting.

I write three columns weekly, trying my darnedest to keep them from being predictable while remaining informative on a range of topics, focusing on aspects that make our lives both interesting and just.

Although I'm not reluctant to still pursue truth in the public interest, I also must rely far more today on readers, the paper and the public to help keep me informed, and supply facts when necessary.

As for his comment about my energy level and informing readers of my life, career and experiences, I believe in that classic advice to writers that we are best when exploring things about which we know.

And who knows my life and experiences better than me?


Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

Print Headline: Obits say a lot

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