One of the quirks working at The Gazette involves the obituaries section.
Despite the paper’s best efforts, it still becomes difficult to get people to plan their deaths in advance. And so, seven days a week, people collect paid obituary notices and compile them for the next day’s paper. And the space they’re given to fill is usually larger than the amount of obituaries they have.
So at about 8pm every night, the news desk gets a call from the obituaries people telling us how much extra space there is. Sometimes there’s none, sometimes it’s a column, a few columns, a full page, or a full page and more.
When there’s a full page free, the ideal situation involves giving it to the section that precedes it, usually either business or sports. This is why you’ll sometimes see a full page of business news in Monday’s Your Business section just before the obits. But the news usually comes too late for the section editor to re-engineer the section to accomodate.
When that happens, and when there’s space on a page shared by paid obituaries, we run editorial ones. These are usually pieces from the New York Times or Washington Post about obscure musicians or scientists we’ve never heard of. Occasionally, though, we get a famous death or a locally-produced obit.
On Thursday night, I got approached by Alan Hustak, aka “Dr. Death.” He writes most of the Gazette’s obits, and had just written a medium-sized piece on Thomas McEntee, an Irish Catholic priest with a strong attachment to Griffintown. I was editing the World section at the time, and it’s usually that person’s responsibility to fill the obit pages when they come in.
When news came down of the space to fill, I had a full page plus a column. Hustak’s piece could have been crammed into that column with a small picture, but I decided to see if I could make it fill a full page.
Fortunately, Father McEntee has had his name in the paper quite a few times. He had this thing for a 19th-century woman named Mary Gallagher who would haunt Griffintown every seven years and look for her decapitated head. A story about that campaign led to plenty of pictures taken by staff photographers a few years ago.
I took one of those pictures and had it fill almost the entire page above the fold. Below, I had the article, which was still way too short to fill the space without it looking weird.
Rather than give up, or find some other obit to fill the space, I went through the archives. I found a profile on him that had been done in 1991, and cut out some information about his background and education. Combined with an old picture that Hustak had found, I made a fast-facts infobox. On the other side of the article, I put another infobox, which I filled with part of an old story by Hustak about Mary Gallagher.
A little bit of playing around to make everything line up, a pullquote to fill some space, and voila: A full-page obituary for a local priest, put together on deadline.
The online versions don’t do justice to the layout, but here they are anyway:
As for the other column, as I looked for something to fill it, news was just breaking that Harvey Korman had died. The decision was simple.