What will your obituary say about you?

Every Sunday, I make it a practice to read the week’s obituaries in The New York Times, focusing on the important obituaries of 80-year-olds and 90-year-olds, with a sprinkling of centenarians.
What wonderfully full lives many of them had! And I’m especially intrigued by those who continued to be active in their later years.
Take for example, Hiram Mendow, who died recently at age 107. Born in Minneapolis as a son of a junk dealer, Mendow began work at the age of six, shining shoes and selling newspapers.
He later earned money for his law school tuition by making window shades, and went on to become famous defending Al Capone and other high-profile clients.
His wife was dumbfounded when someone asked her at his 100th birthday if he should retire. “Retire?” she asked. “I always tell people that I married Hiram for better and for worse but not for lunch.”
He did, however, retire five years ago at the age of 102. But he still attended movies and concerts, and took a course in creative writing.
Another person who continued to be active was the younger sister of Yehudi Menuhin, Yaltah, who died last week at the age of 79. She was a concert pianist and sometimes performed with her brother as an accompanist and chamber music partner.
Although she had retired from the concert stage earlier, she gave her last performance in Ipswich, England just three days before her death.
There have been many other interesting obituaries in the past month. Arlene Francis, who died at 93, was an upbeat fixture on “What’s My Line” for 25 years. Freddie Trenkler, who is remembered as the Bouncing Ball of the Ice because of the way he slipped and tumbled as he skated himself to fame, is dead at 88.
He also is remembered for his annual tours with Sonja Henie.
Harry Townes was an actor who played on Broadway, starred in movies, and appeared regularly on “Gunsmoke,” “The Twilight Zone,” and “Star Trek.” He retired from the stage at age 55 and began a second career as an Episcopal minister. He died at 86.
J. C. Furnas, an eminent historian, was a scholar and noted writer. But at his death at 95, he was most famous for an article he authored for Reader’s Digest in 1935.
“. . . And Sudden Death” was a piece on automobile fatalities and the need for safe driving. This article became the most widely-circulated article ever written. Reader’s Digest issued eight million reprints and it was credited with forcing the automobile industry to make safer cars and the U.S. Transportation Department to revise highway engineering.
Also, there were many women of privilege who put their wealth to good use. Barbara Banning Tweed Estill of New York City died at 93. She was a civic leader who served as the president of Big Sisters and focused on programs for the elderly.
These were all people who lived vibrantly to the end. They weren’t people who became famous in their 20s or 30s, then just happened to live to 100. They continued being active participants in life at advanced ages.
With all of those wonderful role models, where do you want to fit in? Would you like to write a book? Or be a volunteer? Do you want to begin a new career after retirement? Or wait until 102 to retire.
What would you like your obituary to say? Remember, it’s entirely up to you.

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