Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times | Terms of Service | Privacy Policy

From the Back Pew: Obits are good reads

This may seem odd to some people, but I like reading obituaries. I find them fascinating.

Sometimes I just skim through the professionally written ones — those of people you may or may not know who have a claim to fame, people such as Frances Kuyper, inventor of the world’s first cake museum, or Theo Albrecht, who co-owned Trader Joe’s. Like Cheez Doodles? Thank their creator, Morrie Yohai, who recently passed at 90.


But instead of concentrating on the news obits, my eye usually wanders to those that look more like classified ads, where survivors attempt to summarize, in just a few words, a person’s entire life.

Take, for instance the paid obituary of Nobue Matsumoto, a resident of Glendale who passed away at 82 in July. She was the third of six daughters in the family. She met her husband, Robert Matsumoto, while he was working for U.S. Army Intelligence in Tokyo. I would have loved to have heard about that romance and about what her family dynamic was like, growing up with three older sisters and two younger ones.


Or consider the death notice of Walter Sonny Anderson, who worked for Disney and “performed throughout the years with symphony orchestras, Broadway shows, jazz combos, Latin bands and variety shows as a professional musician excelling as a fine percussionist, arranger, conductor, composer, and studio performer.” As a fan of most of these genres, I would have loved to have seen him perform. He passed away on Aug. 3, just one week shy of his 87th birthday.

Professionally written obits are interesting to read, too, and the person’s claim to fame rarely fails to surprise me. Take David L. Wolper, one of the producers of the hit 1977 miniseries “Roots.” Or Francisco Varallo, the last surviving player from the first World Cup in 1930.

Are you a fan of Ella Fitzgerald, Perry Como or Frank Sinatra? Meet George David Weiss, who co-wrote songs for those artists.

Grow up with the “Howdy Doody Show”? Thank the show’s head writer Edward Kean, who helped make that show a legendary success.


Read the obituaries and you’ll meet people you wish you knew.


I would like to welcome non-denominationalist Gary Huerta to In Theory. You may know Gary from his weekly “A Balcony View” column which runs in the Glendale News-Press every Tuesday. Here is part of his take this week on the perceived sense of Islamophobia in the United States: “Personally, I believe there are more Americans who are tolerant of Muslims than are not. Sadly, that is not nearly as interesting as televising angry mobs of the unenlightened. Those without the desire to form their own opinions are inclined to believe the one they hear the most or the one that is shouted loudest. And the cycle of negativity perpetuates.”

“I have faith in a universal power,” he wrote in an e-mail. “I just don’t believe it requires affiliation with organized religion.”


MICHAEL J. ARVIZU is a writer for the La Cañada Valley Sun. Reach him at (818) 637-3263 or e-mail