Tom Gibbons

This tribute to Perth artist and literature lecturer Tom Gibbons was published in The West Australian in March 2012.

Writing obituaries was possibly the most rewarding part of my full-time newspaper career. This was my main area of work from May 2000 until December 2004.

It is the journalist as gentle usher. “Please, dear reader, come along with the bereaved family and friends for a little walk through this person’s time on Earth.”

We know that obituaries cover household names, but they can also cover people known only in their own households. Examination of apparently ordinary lives can reveal nuggets. The aim is to show that celebrity does not equal worth.

The general tone of interviews and compilation is

usually sedate but jarring moments can occur.

Is your main informant the second or even third spouse of the subject? You may encounter difficulties in discussing, let alone recording, the earlier years. During a talk to Rotary I let slip that a widow had told me “there was no point even in discussing his first marriage.”

“But there were three children from that association,” I countered.

The Rotary audience enjoyed hearing how negotiations proceeded towards compromise and semi-satisfaction on all sides.

Obituaries on suicides present extra challenges. The matter of wording is especially delicate.

Click here to read Tom Gibbons’ obituary.