Columns » Chris Rose

The Old Fart Died

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The Old Fart Died.

  That's all. Nothing more to say about it. The Old Fart Died. End of story. Or, in this case, just the beginning.

  The Old Fart — his words, not mine — was Noel Edd Wilson Sr., born in Little Field, Texas, in November 1934. He became a New Orleanian, raised a family here and died last week in Kenner after a long and grueling battle with laryngeal cancer.

  For much of his life, he was a self-employed subcontractor. He was a veteran, a card-carrying member of the National Rifle Association and an inveterate forwarder of online jokes, screeds and political commentaries.

  He had a voracious appetite for good deeds and charitable works, though he kept quiet about it and preferred that others did, too. He preferred to carve out a reputation as a crank. He lived simply, quietly, at the Westminster Tower retirement home. He used the home's shuttle bus to drive his neighbors to doctors' appointments and church, and paid bills for them if they came up short at the end of the month.

  But he was no softy. His favorite means of communication was a shaken fist. And his business card said: "Grumpy Old Man." That's how he wanted to be remembered. And that's how I came upon his story.

  His daughter, Suzie Wilson, contacted me last week. She was frustrated with my former employer, The Times-Picayune. The reason: The newspaper refused to run her father's death notice exactly the way he had prepared it. What it said was: "The Old Fart Died." Nothing else. No name. No accomplishments, memberships, affiliations. Just: "The Old Fart Died."

  "My father liked what he used to call 'a good humbug,'" Suzie told me. "We think it's hysterical, and I'm confident readers would find the humor in it, but the T-P rejected it, saying it wasn't appropriate for the paper. The paper was polite about it. But firm."

  I happen to know the woman who handled Wilson's request at the paper, so – at Suzie's request — I called to inquire about the situation.

  Needless to say, The Times-Picayune employee who handled the matter needed little prodding to remember the customer who wanted "The Old Fart Died" and nothing else. In fact, she was genuinely moved by the whole episode. "I think the guy had a wonderful outlook on life and death," she told me. (Her supervisor declined to let her be quoted by name.) "Death can be so sad, but here was some light, in that moment. I found it all quite inspirational; I really did."

  She paused and added: "But, still, I can't publish 'The Old Fart Died.'"

  It doesn't really seem unreasonable when you think about it.

  "On one hand, I understand that those who read the obits may wonder if it is their loved one," Suzie reasoned. "On the other hand, if it is a loved one, one would know it is theirs — wouldn't they?"

  One would hope. And since my recent columns here at Gambit have displayed a seeming preoccupation with death and dying, I took it upon myself to present Noel Edd Wilson's obituary as he wished it to be: The Old Fart Died. Seems a small gesture of appreciation for a guy who, it turns out — despite his carefully constructed ornery exterior — was the delight of his community at Westminster Tower.

  A small memorial service was held for him last week at Lafreniere Park. Lots of people told the kinds of stories he couldn't stand, the ones that talk about what a great guy he was, all the errands and favors he accommodated at the Tower, all the Thanksgiving turkeys he bought anonymously for the needy every year, all that mushy talk he could not — and would not — brook.

  And then the assembled folks set aloft 75 balloons in his honor. This was another of his last wishes. Printed on the balloons was the epitaph he wanted: The Old Fart Died.

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