Whiskey Ted, 64

Every town in Southeast has a paper – a daily or weekly paper paper that takes the time to appropriately register passings. Perhaps the best way to really get feel for Southeast is to curl up in a comfortable chair at the local library and just read the obits. Author Heather Lende, who has brilliantly encapsulated the spirit of the small town of Haines in If You Lived Here I’d Know Your Name spent years writing obituaries.

I’ve written two obituaries for the Old Town Chinatown Crier, for Kevin Montgomery Smith and Rosario Agliloro, both of whom left intolerable holes in the fabric of the Neighborhood Association. Dorothy Jensen, the former journalist who for years was the mainstay of Outreach in Burnside wrote wonderful obituaries. They left you thinking, “Why didn’t I stop more often when I passed him on the street?” or “Oh, I wish I could talk to her now.” For the person’s Celebration of Life, the small Outreach storefront was often packed to the gills, likely thanks to the obits.

But even though we live in neighborhood similar in size to many Alaskan communities, nobody seems to want the same equitable coverage of our losses. Big city papers now only note the deaths of prominent citizens or those whose families write their stories and pay dearly to have them printed. This seems so ill-considered, so culturally bereft. We would have a much richer feeling for our neighborhood if we noted passings, and in these times of mandated privacy and HIPA, life stories are more easily written after death. Of course there wouldn’t be enough space to do it right in the Old Town Chinatown Crier and our advertisers would balk. The paper only comes out quarterly and in three months’ worth of passings might be too many.

For some, Portland’s Old Town Chinatown is a long-time home; for others a place they can quickly call home. They have come seeking the big city, or freedom from past attachments or predicaments. or medical treatment or the care offered in and by the community. Some stay, some move on (ours is as upwardly mobile community as any anywhere) and some come back toward the end of their years. And all of their stories are complex, not the stuff most fledgling journalists can manage.

It was a small town obit from the Petersburg Pilot of June 14 that got me thinking about this. It caught my eye because Whiskey Ted is a contemporary, distinguished beyond the usual first-name-middle-initial-last-name listing. And I just bet that at least once before Alaska or while heeding its call, he walked the streets of our neighborhood.

“Whiskey Ted Lost his battle with cancer on June 6, 2012. “Teddy Lee” Letcher known to many as Whiskey Ted was born on June 4, 1948 in Tillamook, Ore.”

“Ted, a proud veteran of the Vietnam Era, served in the Navy ’65-’69, returned from service to Portland, Ore. was “looking for a place to be me.” After saving for years, Ted headed north and found “that place” in Petersburg’s harbor. Whiskey Ted was a fisherman experiencing it all. He was a hand troller and a member of many Petersburg crews crabbing, shrimping, salmon fishing, long-lining and baiting gear on the docks.”

“Like a decades ol’ pair of Xtra Tuffs, Whiskey Ted was worn in all the places one comes to expect and when, as it happens, age, and health prevented him from commercial fishing, he remained a fixture in our lives, walking the Petersburg docks, coffee in hand, looking for one last skate of gear to bait. He was a friend to all and took the time to stop and visit with everyone, from lil’ kids who he so loved to old timers.”

The obit goes on to list those who preceded him in death and those who survive him; the family’s request that donations be sent to the Petersburg Medical Clinic or the VFW; and his request that his ashes be tossed at his favorite fishing spot, concluding with this “A “Celebration of Life” and potluck in Ted’s honor will be at the Harbor Bar June 17 from 4-6 pm.”


1 Response to “Whiskey Ted, 64”

  1. 1 D. Mundie July 24, 2012 at 7:45 pm

    I wrote my mother’s obit last week, and so this entry moved me.

    Glad to see you’re out sailing again.

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