For the past 22 years, Tawnya Stapleton has come to work and written about death — hardly a cheery job.
But for the past 22 years, she has done it with grace, compassion and professionalism. Tawnya Stapleton, our obituary clerk for more than two decades, will be writing her last obit for us in today’s newspaper. She is retiring to a life of travel, reading and genealogy.
You haven’t seen her name in the bright lights of our newspaper because her writing doesn’t require a byline. Most of our readers wouldn’t know her if they saw her.
But she has been there writing. Five days a week for 22 years.
By my own underinflated estimates, Tawyna has produced more than 50,000 obituaries during her with time us. She has written about the very young, the very old, the very poor and the very rich. Sometimes she has written obits with tears in her eyes — maybe for a dear friend or a family member who has passed.
But the ones that have stayed with her the most are the children.
Her thought after learning of the Connecticut school shooting was about all those sweet children — and the obituary writer who was going to have to tell that sad tale. It’s heartbreaking and her heart broke not only for the families and friends but the newspaper clerk that had to put that obit together.
Tawyna’s institutional knowledge of the area has made her a valued employee beyond the obituary desk. She knows the people and the places.
She started writing obits for us in June of 1990, replacing Geneva Gearhart on the desk. Tawnya is a perfectionist which works out perfect for her job with us as the obit clerk. If nothing else, we want the obits to be perfect. They are so important to families who keep them and store them in family bibles and drawers.
Tawnya was always so compassionate in dealing with families on what, in most cases, was the worst day of their life. They had lost a loved one and there’s no other sting quite like it. You are heartbroken and emotional. Tawyna took all that into account. Sometimes she got yelled at, sometimes she cried with the customer. But she did what she could to make this part of their journey respectful.
She also had the respect of the area funeral home directors who sometimes tested her. But nobody knew the rules of the newspaper’s obit desk better than Tawyna (that includes me). If it was our mistake, she would apologize and make it right. If it wasn’t our mistake, she would let them know it.
There have been at least eight others who wrote obits during Tawnya’s 22 years, including Mary Kitts, who will be replacing her on the obit desk beginning next week. Mary, like Tawnya, is a professional from the word go. Our readers will get to know her like they did Tawyna — even if they don’t see her name in print.
The obit page is one of the best-read sections in the newspaper on a daily basis. We understand that and are determined to make sure it’s right. For that to happen, you must have good people in those positions.
We certainly had one in Tawnya Stapleton. We wish her the best in retirement with husband, Jim. They plan on doing a lot of traveling and she plans on doing a lot of reading and learning more and more about her family’s own history.
Good luck, Tawnya. You will be missed.
MARK MAYNARD can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2648.