Sandra Martin: Superstar obituarist or Grim Reaper?

Sandra Martin: Superstar obituarist or Grim Reaper?

Beryl Plumptre is dead and that matters. We know this—in part, at least—because Sandra Martin, the Globe and Mail’s lead obituarist, tells us so. Martin is part of a recent phenomenon: the superstar obituarist. Apparently, it’s been the rage in the U.K. since at least 2006, when the BBC reported that:

There is no doubt obituaries are in rude health today. In the U.K., a revolution took place in newspaper obits in the mid-1980s.

The Independent began using bylines which led to more opinionated pieces. The Daily Telegraph’s then obituary editor, Hugh Massingberd, introduced a P.G. Wodehouse–style irreverence and gossip into his paper’s obits.

All of which is arguably to the good. What might cross the line, though, is the photograph that accompanies each of Martin’s final tallies. I asked a former editor at The Daily Telegraph whether he thought this appropriate and he responded with an unequivocal:

No. It is supposed to be an anonymous trade. A headshot makes an obit a tribute, or necro-blowjob. The world’s greatest obituarist, the late Hugh Massingberd, never received so much as a byline for his work in that field in the Telegraph. Not even on the obituary he co-wrote about himself.

Definitely and defiantly old school. Still, when you look at Martin’s mug you can’t help thinking “Grim Reaper,” and shouldn’t an obit be more about the dead than the dispatcher?

Bringing the dead to life [BBC]• Beryl Plumptre, 99: Advocate [Globe and Mail]