Honoring Jane Catherine Lotter and my Granddad

Ever since I read about Jane Catherine Lotter’s death, and the fact that she had written her own obituary I’ve been intrigued.  What if we all wrote our own obituary, maybe updated it every year. How would that (could that?) change who we are?  I’m not ready to write my own obituary, though I hope one day in the quite distant future it will read that I was as well loved as Jane Lotter, and that somewhere someone (maybe more than a few) found my words, my work inspirational, helpful….

So often obituaries focus on the The Big Accomplishments. What I love about Jane Lotter’s is how she focuses on the smaller things.  Yes, she mentions her professional career, but it’s her family, the things she loved that are most important to her.

It makes me wish I’d written my grandfather’s obituary differently.

Here’s what I wrote in 2004:

Rear Admiral Maurice E. Simpson, USN (Retired) passed away on February 16, 2004 near his home in Del Mar, Calif. Born in Minnesota in 1909, he completed his dental studies at the University of Minnesota in 1936, followed by a year’s internship with the U.S. Public Health Service in the Marine Hospital at Norfolk, Virginia. In 1937, Simpson was appointed lieutenant junior grade in the U.S. Navy.

His first duty assignment was to the Naval Training Center in San Diego, Calif. where he moved with his new wife, Ruby Wellons of Sedley, Virginia.

Simpson was aboard the stores-issue ship USS Antares when the ship entered Pearl Harbor at 8 a.m. on December 7, 1941 and was strafed by Japanese pilots.

Simpson also served aboard the USS Washington, where he saw combat in the Pacific during World War II, aboard the USS Repose, stationed in Tsingtao China prior to the Communists take over, and aboard the USS El Dorado. Other notable duties included chief of dental service in the U.S. Naval Hospital in Quanitco Virginia, and serving in Japan during the hostilities in Korea where he was awarded the Navy Commendation Medal for his skill and leadership in the treatment of the wounded at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Yokosuka.

Simpson was promoted to rear admiral on July 1, 1964 and served as fleet dental officer and assistant chief of staff of dentistry for the commander in chief of the Atlantic Fleet in Norfolk, Virginia from 1967 until his retirement in 1971.

After retirement, Simpson returned to San Diego where he enjoyed golf with friends, and even made two holes-in-one. He also enjoyed travel with his wife Ruby, who died in 1994.

What I wish I’d written:


Me in the middle, Grandma on the left, Dreamboat on the right

As a dental intern at the Marine Hospital in Norfolk, Virginia, Maurice Simpson was known as “Dreamboat” for his sparkly blue eyes–but he only had eyes for his beloved Ruby, a widowed young nurse at the hospital who would become his wife of nearly 60 years, preceding him in death by 10 years.  He always said that the secret to his long life was “strong booze and wild women.”  People that knew him understood the joke. Only on occasion did he drink a gin martini, and in later years a glass of Sutter Home White Zinfandel wine, “the only one that tastes good,” he’d say.  And Ruby was a sweet and gentle woman.

In addition to being a dentist and a decorated retired Navy Admiral,  Maury, as he was known to his friends, was a tough but loving father.  Age and time softened him into a super fun and loving grandfather.  He did magic tricks, making coins disappear, he played a mean game of Acey Deucey, and he liked to fly down the hill from Torrey Pines into Del Mar in his 1971 VW Super Beetle, in neutral.  He played golf well into his 90s, and in fact made a Hole-In-One when he was 90. Not known for being prideful, he would want me to mention that it was at the at the Lomas Santa Fe Executive Golf Course.

He paid his bills the day they came in the mail, paid cash whenever he could, and the first time he ever took out credit, was a loan to cover the $35  fee to adopt George, Ruby’s five-year-old son from her first marriage.

Maury was most loved for telling stories– some of which his grandchildren (at least the one writing this) didn’t realize were NOT  true until years after first hearing them. Like how they used condoms to waterproof their flashlights on ship during WWII. Granddad had to go to the store and buy a case then return the next day to complain that there was one missing.  The store clerk said, “I hope it didn’t ruin your night.”

* * *

What do you hope people will say about you after you’re gone?  What would you say about yourself?


About Jennifer Simpson

Writer, marketing consultant, community builder and teacher. Director of DimeStories International, where authors share their 3-minute stories at open mic events and online. Publisher and editor of the I WRITE BECAUSE project. Find out more at http://JenniferSimpsonWriter.com
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