Sometime in the last few years I went through whatever life change it is that makes a person interested in obituaries. A well-written obit is a capsule biography that takes you through a whole life — often one lasting 90 years or more — whilst you drink your coffee of a Sunday morning. In this way I have learned about a bunch of very interesting people that I’d never even heard of before.

Today I thought I’d share three recent examples. For each one I’ve posted a few key paragraphs along with a link to the full obit. Only after the fact did I notice that these are all portraits of, shall we say, non-conforming women; make of that what you will.

I may make this a regular feature of the blog going forward. You have been warned.

(Note: If you run into the New York Times paywall whice trying to click through to any of these, let me know; my subscription lets me gift articles to people directly, which I’m happy to do.)


Jakucho Setouchi

In her 99 years this woman wrote over 400 books, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Jakucho Setouchi, a Buddhist priest and feminist author who wrote frankly about sex, entertained audiences with her insouciant wit and rendered one of Japan’s greatest classic works into a readable best seller, died on Nov. 9 in Kyoto, Japan. She was 99.

Her private secretary, Manaho Seo, said the cause was heart failure.

Ms. Setouchi, whom some critics called “Womb Writer” because of her controversial novels about sex and family, flouted expectations for women throughout her lifetime. She left her first husband and young child to have an affair with a younger man, drank alcohol and ate meat even after becoming a Buddhist priest, and talked publicly about the importance of sexual freedom, for women in particular.

“I think it’s good to be free,” she told The New York Times in 1999, “and to have sex with anyone.”

Jakucho Setouchi FULL OBIT


Darlene Hard

That is such a great name, first of all — should be used by an all-girl punk band.

Hard was unusually outspoken at a time when most top players lacked the assertiveness that some display today. She once said of dominating Australian tennis officials: “They treat you not as a player but a puppet. Between tournaments, I was not asked to play in exhibitions — I was ordered to play in them. It was not ‘Miss Hard, would you mind playing?’ It was ‘Miss Hard, you will play.’”

Hard belonged to four victorious teams in the Wightman Cup, the annual competition between British and American tennis players. She showed her independent-mindedness then, too, earning the irritation of the American team’s captain, Margaret Osborne duPont.

In an official 1962 report, duPont called Hard a “disrupting element” and wrote, “She insisted on practicing her way instead of complying with the captain’s wishes and those of the other team members.”

Hard took part in a match that made tennis history on July 6, 1957, when she lost in the final that made [Althea] Gibson the first African American woman to win Wimbledon (by a 6-3, 6-2 score). Before the match, as is customary, both players curtsied to a young Queen Elizabeth II. Afterward, the queen spoke to them for a few minutes. Then Gibson, following protocol, backed away. An overly enthused Hard, however, in an eyebrow-raising breach of etiquette, turned her back to the queen and skipped toward the locker room.

Darlene Hard FULL OBIT


Renay Mandel Corren

This is quite possibly the best obituary ever written. Seriously. Do click through and read the whole thing; you’ll be glad you did.

A plus-sized Jewish lady redneck died in El Paso on Saturday.

Of itself hardly news, or good news if you’re the type that subscribes to the notion that anybody not named you dying in El Paso, Texas is good news. In which case have I got news for you: the bawdy, fertile, redheaded matriarch of a sprawling Jewish-Mexican-Redneck American family has kicked it. This was not good news to Renay Mandel Corren’s many surviving children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, many of whom she even knew and, in her own way, loved. There will be much mourning in the many glamorous locales she went bankrupt in: McKeesport, PA, Renay’s birthplace and where she first fell in love with ham, and atheism; Fayetteville and Kill Devil Hills, NC, where Renay’s dreams, credit rating and marriage are all buried; and of course Miami, FL, where Renay’s parents, uncles, aunts, and eternal hopes of all Miami Dolphins fans everywhere, are all buried pretty deep.

Renay Mandel Corren FULL OBIT