Have you heard of George Carruthers?

Do you read obituaries? I do, and the older I get the more faithfully I check the obits. But not for what you might think- to find out if anyone I know has died, or their mother or father. My purpose is more to find a good story. And recently I also found a good lesson for Black History Month.

I especially enjoy the “news obituaries” in my paper. These are short articles about local individuals. I have read juicy details too unexpected to imagine; the Korean immigrant, successfully building up his dry cleaning establishments, whose most proud accomplishment was the moment he hit a hole-in-one on the golf course. The seamstress for the New York City Ballet, creating skin-tight confections and available behind the scenes at every performance in case of a costume emergency, who  never sewed another single stitch once she retired. 

I recently cut out the obituary of George Carruthers, who died this December 26. Carruthers was a local Washington D.C. boy who built his first telescope when he was 10, won science fairs, read science fiction, and grew up to work at the nearby Naval Research Laboratory designing  sophisticated new telescopes. His inventions had to be small, light, work in heat and cold, and be usable by astronauts’ thick- gloved hands on the moon. They were used to look out into deep space, making critical discoveries about how stars form. A significant life, I think we would agree, even though you and I had never heard of him. 

And why did I save his obituary from the recycling bin? Because part of George Carruthers story is that he was a local black boy. His father died when he was 12 and his mom worked at the Post Office to support her family. Her son went on to become an astrophysicist. George Carruthers was a shy person, consumed by his passion for capturing the invisible with telescope and camera technologies he invented himself, but he chose to also find time for science outreach in schools, apprenticing high school students at his workplace, and he even taught summer courses for Washington DC public school science teachers.  

I read the obituaries because I believe our lives are enriched by the stories of these quieter lives, of unknown neighbors. The not-entertainers, not-politicians, not-sports heroes, the not-so famous.

I’m lifting up the life of George Carruthers for my elementary science students this February.

3 thoughts on “Have you heard of George Carruthers?

  1. I love your reasons for reading obits. I used to read them, but stopped reading the local. ones several years ago. Because obits are often written by family members, I came to see them as fictions. My husband was married 28 years before his divorce. When his ex wife died a couple years ago, there was no mention of the marriage in her obit, despite her having never remarried. They had five children together, one who died as a child. Her obit made it sound as though she’d had five virgin births.

    I do read some obits in national publications, and I love Nicole Wallace’s “Lives Well Lived” segment at the end of her show each day.

    And since you like obits, have you read Victoria Chang’s collection of poetry titled “Obit”? Most of the poems look like obituaries.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for the recommendations, I’ll follow up!
    I probably should have been more clear- I’m talking here about “news obituaries” which are written by newspaper staff after interviewing family and colleagues. I totally get your opinions of family written obits! 5 virgin births is pretty funny, unless it’s your loved one!


  3. I’ll just say thanks again for sharing this – for lifting up someone like Carruthers. I knew his name but not about him – adding him to my mental list of people who matter. Thank you.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s