Please indulge me today. Having reached an age at which I would look at the obituary page every morning even if I were not professionally obliged to keep up with the paper, and at which I more regularly attend funerals and memorial services, I would like to say a couple of farewells.
If you are in Baltimore, you may have heard of Dudley Clendinen: read either of his books or his published articles, or listened to him talk with Tom Hall on WYPR-FM over the months that amyotrophic lateral sclerosis was claiming his body.
I don't expect to match the eloquence of Taylor Branch's eulogy at Dudley's funeral last week, or Linda Ellerbee's, or Dudley's own remarks quoted by the Rev. Stewart Lucas in his sermon. (Dudley on why he did not believe in an afterlife or heaven: "All our mothers are going to be there. For eternity.") But I owe a debt of gratitude to Dudley.
During his brief tenure as an editor at The Sun, he did me a signal service. I submitted to him one of my monthly in-house memos to the staff on writing and editing, and he said in his molasses-rich rumbling baritone that he did not get the opening. So I explained it to him, and he still didn't get it, and slowly I understood. Instead of telling me that it was strained and unfunny, he allowed me to discover through my repeated attempts to explain the humor, that it didn't work and I should try something else. I am grateful to this day for his guidance and his tact.
And I also mark his example. After a time at The Sun, he realized that he had been outmaneuvered in office machinations. Rather than sit in an office and collect wages without useful work to do, he resigned and went on to other things. Many other things, not the least of which was thecourage and nobility with which he confronted his own impending death, publicly, with grace and humor to the end.
If you are in Baltimore, you probably have not heard of Josephine deButts, a centenarian who did not cut a figure in the larger world. But she was a distinctive figure at Memorial Episcopal Church in Bolton Hill, where her father and grandfather had been rectors.
I think I can presume to call her Josephine rather than Mrs. deButts, because she was pleased to flirt with me in the genteel and Southern manner throughout her nineties (as she did with most men). It pleased her that I wear a suit and tie to church and observe the proprieties, so I became one of her pets.
Josephine may have been decorous, a lady in the traditional mode, but she was no frail, demure flower. She had grit. She had decided views, and she expressed them. She was at all times her own person, and no one could be mistaken about that.
That quality is what links her with Dudley in my mind. Surrounded as we are by synthetic personalities crafted for political advantage or publicity, we come up short when we confront the genuine article, integrity. Josephine and Dudley were the genuine article, always visibly, authentically themselves. We do not see nearly enough of such persons, and now two of the best are gone.