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Your obituary

Les Kennedy: Got a yarn for you.

Les Kennedy: Got a yarn for you.

The news that highly respected ABC journalist Paul Lockyer died in a helicopter crash with pilot Gary Ticehurst and cameraman John Bean has devastated many Australians familiar with his work.

Coming on the heels of Wednesday's funeral for well-regarded Sydney crime reporter Les Kennedy, I have no doubt it's left a few people in the media and beyond pondering their health and mortality.

More than that, I'd wager there are a couple of journos wondering if their legacy and obituaries would be as shining as the ones left by these two blokes.

Lockyer and Kennedy, from all reports, were very different men, but shared a passion for getting the story, burrowing into the truth of the matter they were investigating and reporting it with integrity.

Listening to Lockyer's grieving colleagues interviewed on Adam Spencer's ABC breakfast show this morning, I felt desperately sad for his friends and family, but then also for the toilers of the world who'll not be remembered so expansively.

Not all of us have high-powered mates in the media who can reminisce about our deeds on the airways, but then not all of us inspire respect, admiration and loyalty like Paul Lockyer - and Les Kennedy - did.

It brought home to me once again that the little choices we make along the road of life eventually add up to who we are, and subsequently how we'll be remembered.

Listening to Ray Martin talk about Lockyer this morning - how his friend had given up drinking and "looked 45 instead of 61", it also struck me that the personal decisions we make about our health and well-being can be just as important as any we make about our careers.

Kennedy fought his battles with the drink and there's little doubt he'd have lasted longer than his 53 years if he'd been a more temperate person.

Tragically, for Lockyer, Ticehurst and Bean, all the right decisions in the world could not compete against fate.

***

I reckon most of us would like our obituaries to be positive affairs and not be filled with hoary cliches such as "he was a man of large appetites" (i.e. obese and/or alcoholic), "he was not always an easy man to live with" (he beat his missus) or "he was a free-spirit" (couldn't hold down a job to save himself).

As I've written before, every day we make choices about who we are, but often don't realise it.

We get out of bed early or 10 minutes too late, so we're rushed and our shirt is unironed and we look like a homesless person.

We smile at strangers or not, lose our tempers or control ourselves, cheat on our wives or remain faithful, keep promises or never turn up when we say we will.

This is who we are.

I reckon a lot of people spend more time thinking about if they'll become a vegetarian than they do about fidelity, honesty and integrity, and these virtues (or lack there of) are what we'll be reading about in their obituaries, not how their hair looked or what sort of car they drove.

It's not a bad thing to think of now and then as you consider betrayal, illegality, immorality or some other questionable action: how will I be remembered - and would I really want that on my tombstone?

Sam de Brito's latest novel Hello Darkness is in bookstores now. You can follow him on Twitter here.

36 comments so far

  • You are not your words or your thoughts; you are your actions.

    I'm not too fussed about how I'll be remembered. I'm more interested in what my memories will be.

    Commenter
    Bender
    Location
    .
    Date and time
    August 19, 2011, 9:38AM
    • Thought provoking, Sam.
      I would like to think that my obituary is about how I loved my family and about the positive impact I had on them.

      I don't really have the opportunity to be 'heroic' in the traditional sense of the word – Im not a spy or some military man going behind enemy lines to save Australia. But I would like to be remembered as a hero to my children.
      To my daughter, someone who built up her self-esteem and confidence and helped show her that she is more beautiful then anything that the media can project. That both her inner and outer beauty projects love and compassion on all around her and she can be secure in herself.
      To my son, I would like my obituary to say that I showed him true manliness – courage in convictions, kindness and gentleness and how to truly love & respect women.

      Damn you Sam – making me think on a Friday!!

      Commenter
      brissy_pete
      Location
      The pulpit
      Date and time
      August 19, 2011, 10:38AM
      • Watched Senna on the weekend, absolutely amazing seeing a funeral procession which included pretty much everyone in Brazil. Also great to watch a film about a man (portrayed) with admirable strong character.

        Even though he was pleased well enough with his achievements, one frank interview several months prior to his death he stated he wasn't happy with his life, but sure "happiness will come some time in the future".

        I took stock of things a couple months ago when a friend was killed in a motorbike crash. Was a moving funeral seeing all those people, and knowing this guy was a great influence on so many, and will be missed more than I ever will.

        But some of us don't feel the need to leave a trail, or follow one.

        Commenter
        Ash Simmonds
        Location
        Adelayed
        Date and time
        August 19, 2011, 10:41AM
        • I spent a lot of time thinking about fidelity, honesty and integrity; I spent a lot of time considering the sort of person I want to be. Then I went back and revisited that when it seemed that girls prefered bastards, and decided that I'd rather be a single that I wanted to be than become someone I didn't like to get laid.

          Anyway...I think one should decide their morality and who they want to be based on their own ideals and faith; other people's opinion can be a good indicator (and the value given to opinions should be weighted based on the person holding them) but it shouldn't be the starting point for one's behaviour.

          Commenter
          JEQP
          Date and time
          August 19, 2011, 12:02PM
          • The closer you get to your obit the more important it becomes I guess. I turned 54 yesterday and I agree with you Sam, its a worthwhile exercise to occasionally take a stab at what would be on your headstone and in your obit. For me I am satisfied with what Random Guy said in a recent post about me "I agree with willow, he is a sensible lad, up to a point". I like its assertion that I am sensible right up until the point that I am not...it is accurate and acknowledges my tendency to bust out into total dickness occasionally (ok, perhaps a bit more often than that).

            I also think the obit is strongly influenced by its deliverer and the audience to which it is targeted. For example your nearest and dearest will talk of a person that many people never get to meet whereas, in your case, Australia,s version of KKK (Queensland?) would likely celebrate the passing of an irritant to their credo - both are things to be proud of in my estimation.

            Praise is only as good as the person offering it - faint praise by a legend is worth more than floods of praise from a prat.

            Wouldn't it be interesting if you arranged for one of your most consistent detractors to give part of your eulogy? I think many of your friends would nod, smile, and love you all the more.

            Commenter
            wilow
            Location
            singapore
            Date and time
            August 19, 2011, 12:23PM
            • "I reckon a lot of people spend more time thinking about if they'll become a vegetarian than they do fidelity, honesty and integrity and these virtues (or lack there of) are what we'll be reading about in your obituary, not how your hair looked or what sort of car you drove".

              Hear hear Sam.

              I always read the obituaries in the SMH and am frequently astounded, and not a little depressed, by the varied and full lives lived by those detailed therein. Doesn't matter whether I have any interest in the person or their particular achievement(s), they're always an interesting read.

              Dunno if it would be the same if it was about Colin, the unmarried bank clerk who worked in filing for 47 years and whose hobbies were stamp collecting and bonsai.

              I'd like to leave an interesting read behind...better get out from behind this desk and go start doing something interesting then, hadn't I.
              Sorry to any Colins in filing.

              Commenter
              Stormy
              Location
              Cumberland Oval
              Date and time
              August 19, 2011, 1:08PM
              • I am cursed with a very strong conscience and a strong set of values, that may or may not be like those of others, that I live every day by. If something doesn't sit well with me and I am forced to go through with it I feel terrible and sometimes end up physically ill. It causes issues for me at work and certainly has caused problems in relationships.

                How would I be remembered? I don't know. I guess as a mildly insane shoe collector who managed to feed guests to her house as well as the entire postcode.

                That is not up to me to decide.

                Commenter
                M
                Location
                Bedlam
                Date and time
                August 19, 2011, 1:40PM
                • Greetings and salutations Sam.

                  "Knowledge of the self is the mother of all knowledge. So it is incumbent on me to know my self, to know it completely, to know its minutiae, its characteristics, its subtleties, and its very atoms."
                  Khalil Gibran

                  Commenter
                  Enkidu
                  Location
                  Samadhi
                  Date and time
                  August 19, 2011, 1:54PM
                  • "We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light." Plato

                    Appears three good men died, doing what they loved.

                    Just have to be the best you can.

                    Commenter
                    kermit the log
                    Location
                    sydney
                    Date and time
                    August 19, 2011, 2:16PM
                    • Why be remembered? It's the waves you are making right now that count.

                      Commenter
                      AW
                      Location
                      Bondi
                      Date and time
                      August 19, 2011, 2:39PM

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