Four deaths

In the news recently, four death notices for people who have in one way or another touched my life. In the order of their passing, sociologist Harold Garfinkel (April 21), actor Sada Thompson (May 4), playwright Arthur Laurents (May 5), and writer Kate Swift (May 7).

Harold Garfinkel. The NYT obit begins:

Harold Garfinkel, a Common-Sense Sociologist, Dies at 93
by Bruce Weber
Harold Garfinkel, an innovative sociologist who turned the study of common sense into a dense and arcane discipline, creating one of his field’s most challenging and fruitful branches of inquiry [ethnomethodology], died April 21 at his home in Pacific Palisades, Calif.

Garfinkel, who taught in the sociology department at UCLA for many years, took as the central topic of his work the problem of social order: How does it come about? A very brief version of his answer, from his Wikipedia entry:

The orderliness of social life … is produced through the moment-to-moment work of society’s members and ethnomethodology’s task is to explicate just how this work is done.

Garfinkel emphasized, among other things, the importance of indexical expressions in uncovering social order and the discovery of order via situations in which expectations of social behavior are violated, or breached. He was a major influence on Harvey Sacks, Gail Jefferson, Emanuel Schegloff, and many others.

Sada Thompson. The NYT obit begins:

Sada Thompson, Actress Known for Maternal Roles, Dies at 83
by Bruce Weber
Sada Thompson, a Tony- and Emmy-winning actress known for her portrayals of archetypal mothers, from the loving family caretaker and the world-weary, had-it-with-the-kids older woman to the brutalizing harridan and mythical adulteress and murderess, died Wednesday [May 4] in Danbury, Conn.

… from 1976 to 1980 she starred as Kate Lawrence, the matriarch of an upper-middle-class family in Pasadena, Calif., in a landmark show, created by Jay Presson Allen, who had adapted “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” for the stage, and produced by Mike Nichols. Its title — “Family” — announced its intention: to be a simple presentation of the fundamental unit of American life. It largely succeeded, melding ordinary daily conflicts with the heightened drama necessary for television entertainment.

Arthur Laurents. The NYT obit begins:

Arthur Laurents, Playwright and Director on Broadway, Dies at 93
by Robert Berkvist
Arthur Laurents, the playwright, screenwriter and director who wrote and ultimately transformed two of Broadway’s landmark shows, “Gypsy” and “West Side Story,” and created one of Hollywood’s most well-known romances, “The Way We Were,” died on Thursday [May 5] at his home in Manhattan.

The obituary treats Laurents’s homosexuality directly and with some humor:

… [In 2007] he agreed to direct a limited-run revival of “Gypsy” as part of the Encores! summer concert series at City Center. This time, Patti LuPone played Momma Rose. He decided that the production would be a tribute to his longtime partner, Tom Hatcher, who had urged him to direct it before he died in 2006.

… His career was barely under way when he was drafted into the Army in 1941, but he spent the war years far from combat, first assigned to writing training films, then radio propaganda shows.

He had also long since cast off whatever remaining doubts he had about his homosexuality and soon lost count of the sexual experiences he had while in the Army. In “Original Story By,” a memoir published in 2000, he was frank about his gay encounters, referring to his partners as “those unremembered hundreds.” Tom Hatcher, a former actor and real estate developer, would be his companion for 52 years.

(Note longtime partner and companion describing Hatcher; on these expressions, see here. And note the management of pronominal reference in “had urged him to direct it before he died in 2006”.)

Kate Swift. The NYT obit begins:

Kate Swift, Writer Who Rooted Out Sexism in Language, Dies at 87
by William Grimes
Kate Swift, a writer and editor who in two groundbreaking books — “Words and Women” and “The Handbook of Nonsexist Writing” [written with her companion, Casey Miller] — brought attention to the sexual discrimination embedded in ordinary English usage, died on Saturday [May 7] in Middletown, Conn.

(Companion is from the Times text.) From later in the obituary:

… [“Words and Women”] illustrated the implicit biases in spoken and written English, highlighting the time-honored phrases “all men are created equal” and “land where our fathers died,” the persistent identification of women by Miss and Mrs., and the journalistic habit of describing women as divorcées or blondes, who might be pert, dimpled or cute. [And the pronouns, the pronouns!]

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