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Epilogue | Romaine Kosharsky

Obit writer lived at top speed, did not fear death

ST. PETERSBURG — If the pain of the hundreds of grieving families she interviewed ever rubbed off on Romaine Kosharsky, she never showed it.

The former obituary writer for the St. Petersburg Times absolutely loved the death beat, chronicling lives of Tampa Bay area residents for 34 years. Colleagues knew that the mirthful cackle they heard was likely coming from the obit desk.

All the while, the mother of seven stayed close to her Jehovah's Witnesses faith, which held out the possibility of a return to earth or resurrection into heaven.

"So many people fear death. She had no fear of it at all," said Helen Swanson, Mrs. Kosharsky's daughter. "She believed that she was going to a much better place, and that she would be coming back to a much better life. She just hoped that all of us would be there with her."

Those core beliefs strengthened Mrs. Kosharsky, her daughter said, and helped her endure some tough times.

Mrs. Kosharsky, the Times' first full-time obituary writer, died Oct. 12. She was 88.

She came to the Times in 1970, at first while working another job as a secretary at Sun Engineering. The paper needed an obit writer, but Mrs. Kosharsky didn't get the job.

But there was still a part-time receptionist's position available. She took that. She had hardly started when word arrived that the new obit writer had quit after just a day on the job.

"When I first came to the Times, I did obituaries, theater time clocks, dictation and funeral notices," she was quoted as saying in an in-house newsletter in 1987. "Back then we handled every region from St. Petersburg to New Port Richey."

A former student at St. Petersburg Junior College and Bixby Business School, Mrs. Kosharsky could type more than 100 words a minute. "You could not talk faster than she could type," said Swanson, 61.

She quickly adapted to the demands of the job, befriending funeral directors and calling family members. "I love people and have no trouble getting information," she said.

She was never shy in the newsroom, turning co-workers into a customer base for her home business selling Shaklee vitamins.

"She was a little off the grid," said Times writer Mary Jane Park. "But she was a nice person, pleasant to be around, someone who took pride in her work."

She dashed from work to weightlifting or aerobics classes five days a week. When the CB radio craze hit, Mrs. Kosharsky chatted with truckers under the handle "Dead End."

Associated Press veteran Craig Basse joined her in 1972, becoming the paper's obituaries editor. Occasionally they collaborated, but more often Mrs. Kosharsky plowed on, summarizing life stories in respectful detail.

She wrote about the socially prominent, accomplished artists and longtime teachers. Ministers, entrepreneurs and activists all died in the opening line, followed by where they died and their age.

There are slivers of history in her obituaries — including a story about the devastating 1921 hurricane told through the family members of J.D. Girard, who died in 1994 at age 89. To feed survivors, Girard had rowed a boat to the window of a neighboring house, where he retrieved a pie that the hungry people split 32 ways.

A native of Altoona, Pa., Mrs. Kosharsky put herself through Penn Commercial College. She moved to St. Petersburg in 1964 after her husband, Stanley, was injured in a mining accident. For several years, the family struggled financially. Mrs. Kosharsky was out of the house 14 hours a day, working two jobs.

She retired from the Times in 2004. Her husband died in 2006. Mrs. Kosharsky had since lived with Alzheimer's, but continued an energetic lifestyle at Emeritus at Pinellas Park.

Knowing her mother did not fear death helps the family now, she said. "It is absolutely comforting," Swanson said. "It really helps all of us."

Contact Andrew Meacham at (727) 892-2248.


Norma "Romaine" Kosharsky

Born: Dec. 24, 1921.

Died: Oct. 12, 2010.

Survivors: Sons Thomas, Stanley James, David and Samuel; daughters, Helen Swanson, Norma Randolph and Cathy Wolfe; sister Natalie Zimmerman; 13 grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.

Obit writer lived at top speed, did not fear death 10/23/10 [Last modified: Saturday, October 23, 2010 7:24pm]
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