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Posted: June 6, 2013 6:18 p.m.

Morgan: Good obits say it all

Just shy of her 99th birthday, Elizabeth Ellis of Oxford died Monday.

Natives and longtime residents will remember her fondly as a fixture in two prominent shops on the square back when clothing stores thrived in Covington.

She was a retail clerk in her teens and worked until her early 80s, first for Sara White Callaway at her store called Callaway’s, then for the late Sutton Hardy at J.C. Poole’s and for later owners Ted and Jane Wood, according to Hardy’s daughter Kathie Smith.

All three businesses were located on the west side of the square.

Friends and acquaintances recall her friendliness, courtesy and helpfulness. Though she and her late husband Charles were childless, they played a prominent role in the lives of many nieces and nephews, taking some into their home.

She was consumed with her membership and responsibilities at Allen Memorial United Methodist Church, longtime friend Judy Greer said.

"If there was food to be prepared for church activities, she’d always do more than anyone else. She was a gracious hostess and relished setting a fine table." Greer calls her "an institution" and agreed that any obituary could hardly do Elizabeth Ellis "justice."

Writing obituaries is usually the first job a new reporter gets, a place to cut his or her teeth and learn the writing craft.

Chomping at the bit to get to "harder news," reporters have long chafed at the seemingly boring job of compiling death notices.

I am different in that I think writing an obituary is an honor and a respectful way to mark one person’s passage on this plane. I hope we all get a good one when our time comes.

Certainly, in a printed obituary, each subject seems to fall just short of pope-conferred sainthood.

An obituary is in many cases the first time the subject’s name will have appeared in print and usually the last time unless there’s a public record or legacy of note.

The writer — be it a family member, friend or obit reporter — gets one last time to tell the story of a life.

And indeed we each have a story to tell. It may not be Pulitzer material or Nobel Prize-worthy, but each of us, I hope, has something to commend us when we reach the Pearly Gates, enough at least to offset any record of unkindness, cruelty, thoughtlessness, misdemeanors, or failure to achieve our highest and best while we were here.

An obituary, written in the saddest of times, can nevertheless be a thoroughly entertaining, even inspiring testament to the art of living.

"Bill,"read one recently, "was the eternal optimist with a ready smile and he was always asking, ‘Are we having fun yet?’ … "If asked how he was doing, he’d always say, ‘I’m hanging in there like a rusty fish hook… Bill’s children and his closest friends will forever think of him whenever they hear, ‘It’s five o’clock somewhere,’ a phrase he’d often use…"

And finally:

"Our Daddy will forever live in our hearts, for he is only a breath away."

Last March, a daughter named Amanda wrote a wry, loving and honest assessment of her father Harry Weathersby Stamps, for the Biloxi Sun-Times, and it became a viral sensation.

She joyfully recapped her dad’s irreverent peculiarities in a way he would surely have approved.

"Harry,"she wrote, "excelled at…living within his means (and) outsmarting squirrels," among other things. He "crowed like a rooster during phone calls with his grandchildren."

She described him as a "ladies’ man, foodie, natty dresser and accomplished traveler," adding details that made each description a wild overstatement. (For instance, "natty" dressing was a daily Fruit of the Loom T-shirt. As a traveler, "He only stayed in the finest AAA-rated campgrounds.")

Harry had a "lifelong love affair with deviled eggs, Lane cake, boiled peanuts, Vienna sausages on saltines, his homemade canned fig preserves, pork chops, turnip greens and buttermilk served in a martini glass garnished with cornbread.

"He called daylight saving time "The Devil’s Time," and died the day clocks sprang forward "as his final act of protest," Amanda wrote.

Wouldn’t you like to have known Harry Stamps?

The way I figure it, one of my sweet, beautiful and accomplished nieces — you know who you are — will write my obituary 30 or so years from now.

Don’t forget I called you "sweet, beautiful and accomplished." I hope you’ll return the favor.

Barbara Morgan is a Covington resident with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics. She can be reached at barbm2158@gmail.com.

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