Roy Exum: A Dead Man’s Laughter

Wednesday, March 19, 2014 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

It is no secret that I love to read and occasionally write obituaries. They are a person’s last remembrance and when I am asked to help close friends or family, it is a near-reverent act. But the ones I appreciate the most are those that include humor, the fun that the deceased has enjoyed, and now I glory in the self-written obituary that Walter Bruhl of Delaware left after he passed away on March 9th.

It has already gone viral – hundreds of thousands have read it in just than a week. It begins with the immortal words from a Monty Python skit about a dead parrot but then Walt gets in the swing of it in a way that assures him of the last laugh. Walt, age 80, died of congestive heart failure while on vacation in Florida.

Here is a two-page autobiography by his own hand I take glee in sharing so that we, total strangers, can join in his celebration of life:

* * *

Walter George Bruhl Jr. of Newark and Dewey Beach is a dead person; he is no more; he is bereft of life; he is deceased; he has rung down the curtain and gone to join the choir invisible; he has expired and gone to meet his maker.

He drifted off this mortal coil Sunday, March 9, 2014, in Punta Gorda, Fla. His spirit was released from his worn-out shell of a body and is now exploring the universe.

He was surrounded by his loving wife of 57 years, Helene Sellers Bruhl, who will now be able to purchase the mink coat which he had always refused her because he believed only minks should wear mink. He is also survived by his son Walter III and wife Melissa; daughters Carly and Paige, and son Martin and wife Debra; son Sam and daughter Kalla. Walt loved and enjoyed his grandkids.

Walt was preceded in death by his tonsils and adenoids in 1935; a spinal disc in 1974; a large piece of his thyroid gland in 1988; and his prostate on March 27, 2000.

He was born in Philadelphia, Pa., April 20,1933 at 10:38 p.m., and weighed in at a healthy seven pounds, four ounces, and was 22 inches long, to Blanche Buckman Bruhl and Walter George Bruhl.

He drifted through the Philadelphia Public School System from 1937 through 1951, graduating, to his mother’s great relief, from John Bartram High School in June 1951.

Walter was a Marine Corps veteran of the Korean War, having served from October 1951 to September 1954, with overseas duty in Japan from June 1953 till August 1954. He attained the rank of sergeant. He chose this path because of Hollywood propaganda, to which he succumbed as a child during World War II, and his cousin Ella, who joined the corps in 1943.

He served an electronics apprenticeship at the Philadelphia Naval Yard from 1956-61; operated Atlantic Automotive Service Stations in Wilmington during 1961-62; and was employed by the late great DuPont Co. from 1962-93. (Very few people who knew him would say he worked for DuPont, and he always claimed he had only been hired to fill a position.)

He started at the Chestnut Run Site as a flunky in the weave area of the Textile Fibers Department, and then was promoted to research assistant, where he stayed from 1963-72. In 1972 he accepted a position as an equipment service representative with the Photo Products Department at the old DuPont Airport site (now Barley Mill Plaza).

In 1973 he was promoted to manufacturing engineering technologist and was employed in that capacity until, after 31 years with The Co., he was given a fine anniversary dinner and a token gift and then "downsized" in December 1993. He was rehired as a contract employee in June 1994, doing the same job that he had been "downsized" from, and stayed until July 1995.

He started his own contract business and worked at Litho Tech Ltd. from 1996-99.

There will be no viewing since his wife refuses to honor his request to have him standing in the corner of the room with a glass of Jack Daniels in his hand so he would appear natural to visitors.

Cremation will take place at the family's convenience, and his ashes will be kept in an urn until they get tired of having it around. “What’s a Grecian Urn? Oh, about 200 drachmas a week.”

Everyone who remembers him is asked to celebrate Walt’s life in their own way; raising a glass of their favorite drink in his memory would be quite appropriate.

Instead of flowers, Walt would hope that you will do an unexpected and unsolicited act of kindness for some poor unfortunate soul in his name.

* * *

Is that priceless or what? Several weeks ago the news staff at the in Pennsylvania printed some of the best lines from obituaries that families had submitted. So as I delight in humanity, allow me to include their collection as well:

* * *

• The Jan. 8 obituary of Kay Dee Garrity-Roth — “teacher, poet, political activist, professional clown, gourmet cook, nature lover and artist” — was in the form of a party invitation. Funeral attendees were asked to wear their “favorite festive” hats.

• The Jan. 12 obituary of Mary Alice Martin included her nickname, “Mama Roadkill,” and mentioned that she had worked for Dutchmaid Motel in Ephrata, “where she was known for bread buttering.”

• The Jan. 22 obituary of Richard Russell Davis detailed his “perfect meal”: “prime rib, mashed potatoes, iceberg lettuce with blue cheese and Italian dressing, and red raspberry pie for dessert.”

• The Feb. 23 obituary of Christine Sharpe Pelger noted how the deceased had faced Parkinson’s disease without complaint, but — to the concern of her family — had taken to eating less, making “chocolate her major food group.” The obit quoted a granddaughter: “That woman ran around and did everything for everybody her whole life. She should eat damn chocolate all day, every day.”

• Last June, the self-written obituary of John “Jack” Holden went viral. He described his life as having been “filled with endless laughter and debauchery.” And his obit included these memorable lines: “Jack was widowed 10 years ago after 61 years of marriage to Elaine Ewing Holden. He has had a number of other wives recently, none of which were his.”

• The 2010 obituary of Archie S. James noted that the deceased and his late wife, Mary, had been longtime employees of UGI Utilities Corp. After cremation, the obit explained, the couple’s ashes were to be blended “with a concrete mixture to form a block, which will be lowered and placed in a ‘living reef’ off the coast of Sanibel Island, Fla., where they will be together to tell all the fishes about their beloved UGI, and booth 22 at Leola Family Restaurant, at which they ate lunch virtually every day for 20 years.”

• Also in 2010, the obituary of William H. Sweger — known to “a few as ‘Moon Pappy’ ” — said he would be “fondly remembered as a loving husband and father with an intelligent, humorous, quirky personality. Whether he was introducing his children to Star Trek, taking endless pictures of mushrooms, or spinning his old Civic on top of the hospital parking garage, he lived the life of a unique individual.”

* * *

My goodness, I just love memories that include laughter.

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