Herman: Wisdom found in Austin man’s first-person obit


Russell Parsons didn’t much care for green vegetables. He told us so in his obit in the Wednesday paper.

“I passed away on April 17, 2016,” it began. “Aside from filling in the date (couldn’t figure out how to do that one without help), I wrote this obituary myself because most obituaries are thrown together at the last minute by grieving relatives and are, quite frankly, dull, boring and uninteresting. I’m hopeful that this one will break that mold. If not, at least it’s not too terribly long and it’s the last time you’ll hear from me.”

The obit allowed us learn about and from an interesting man most of us never met. Parsons, who was retired from AT&T and later worked at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, was 59.

Beth Whatley, Parsons’ widow, lived down the street from him while they were in high school in Houston, but they didn’t date until they met again at the University of Texas. Whatley told me Wednesday that he told her about a year ago that he had written his obit.

They also were getting his will in order as he battled the myelofibrosis — bone marrow cancer — that took his life this week.

“He just came in and said, ‘I’ve written an obit for myself in case things don’t turn out the way we want,’” Whatley recalled. “I read it and said, ‘That’s awesome.’”

Its awesomeness is in the humor and grace and lessons of a man who, facing death, had figured out some important things about life.

“I was not an especially spiritual person and tried my best to live by these wise and simple words: ‘Do the right thing, be nice and don’t be a jerk,’” he told us. “I loved my wife, my boys and my friends. While I had some treasured possessions, I tried to remember to ‘never love anything that can’t love you back.’”

And he enjoyed music, Shiner Bock, “an occasional gin and tonic and traditional ‘meat and taters’ type food.”

“I did have some strong dislikes,” Parsons wrote, “including mean people, hypocrites (especially the holier-than-thou types) and most green vegetables.”

“He really didn’t,” Whatley told me. “And I’m a vegetarian.” She said Parsons was the kind of guy who liked to note that dislike by occasionally wearing a T-shirt that said, “Vegetarian is the Indian word for poor hunter.”

With two sons, now 26 and 29, Parsons said he “patiently endured a minivan/SUV phase of life as a proper parent should, (though) I loved fast cars.”

“Taking hot laps on the Circuit of America’s track in my awesome Dodge Challenger was one of my favorite bucket list accomplishments. For those of you who don’t share my love of fast cars, please stay out of the left lane.”

Parsons, a Democrat, left a request for his GOP friends: “Please turn off Fox News.” And he had this request for everyone: “If you think something isn’t right, go see your doctor.”

Parsons warned his wife that she might be uncomfortable about the part in the obit about her: “I especially appreciate having my wife, Beth, by my side in these final years. I’m still not sure how I managed to get such a smart, beautiful and caring woman to not only marry me but put up with me all these years. I was a lucky guy.”

He praised his wife as “tough and independent” but asked friends to “reach out from time to time and share a glass of wine, a drive through the Hill Country during wildflower season, some good food or just some kind words.”

He asked sons Brandon and Will to “trust your instincts, have lots of fun, take some risks and don’t spend too much time at the office.”

“I’m not quite sure what will come next. Perhaps this is it. Perhaps there is an afterlife where I may see some of you again. Perhaps I’ll come back in a different form and get another chance at this. That would be pretty cool. Whatever happens, it’s been a wonderful life. I hope every one of you makes the most of every single minute you have left on this planet.

“As the Grateful Dead put it, ‘what a long, strange trip it’s been.’ Adios,” he concluded.

Not long enough.

Parsons died, his wife’s hand in his, at 4:50 a.m. Sunday in hospice care in Phoenix, where he was treated at the Mayo Clinic Hospital.

Condolences to the Parsons family on its loss. And congratulations on having had the good fortune to love a man who, after his death, shared with all of us some important things about life.

There’ll be a memorial service at Mayfield Park, not far from where Parsons and Whatley were married in 1978 at Laguna Gloria, at 5:30 p.m. May 20.


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