Last week one Ann Turner Cook passed away at the age of 95. You probably don’t recognize the name, but you might have seen this drawing of her as a baby:
Most likely in a context like this:
Says the NYT:
Ms. Cook was the bona fide Gerber baby, the winner of a nationwide contest in 1928 that has since seen her portrait reproduced on billions of jars of baby food and other items sold round the world.
In 1990, The New York Times described the sketch, by the artist Dorothy Hope Smith, as being “among the world’s most recognizable corporate logos.”
As a baby, Ms. Cook was in very much the right place at the right time. As an adult, however, fearing ridicule for her long-running role as a princess of puréed peas, she did not disclose her identity for decades.
Ms. Cook, who received no royalties for the use of her image, profited from it by precisely $5,000 over some 90 years. That sum — a settlement she accepted from Gerber in 1951 — let her make the down payment on her first home.
After I read the main obituaries in the Sunday Times, my eyes wander over to the smaller ones with the tiny, tiny type. If I were a perfect reading machine I would absorb all of these — the lives there summarized are often as interesting as the ones that get the big writeups, and since they are paid for by the word, every column inch is a testament to the fact that someone was beloved (or at least wealthy).
Usually I pick one or two that catch me eye. This week I was particularly struck by one headlined “DEAN—Joe.” Apparently these little ones aren’t available online, so here’s a picture:
I think this may be the perfect obituary. Warm and genial expression? Check. Age-appropriate but not horrifying picture? Check. Terse, to the point text that makes every word count and praises its subject without getting all flowery? Check. I’d like mine to be similar if possible.
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.)
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.