“We obsess in this country about how to eat and dress and drink, about finding a job and a mate.  About having sex and children.  About how to live.  But we don’t talk about how to die. We act as if facing death weren’t one of life’s greatest, most absorbing thrills and challenges. Believe me, it is. This is not dull.”    ~ Dudley Clendinen                                                                         


Dudley Clendinen’s voice is thick and soupy; listening to him speak on the radio is like eating oatmeal with a fork.  Most of it falls away.  His voice, already textured with a deep Southern softness , sounds remarkably like my father’s of late, and furthermore, I am used to getting what I can of the oatmeal, listening intently to a trail of syllables for an idea I can recognize.  I feel right at home.

I’m listening online to Maryland public radio shows interviewing Dudley in the year after his diagnosis with ALS.  Having worked as a New  York Times reporter, editor, and author, what mattered to him was conveying our human connections,  championing those sidelined, seeing how every life helps write history.  As a southern gentlemen, he covered stories of race, civil rights, homelessness, prisons, an abortion doctor’s conscience.   As a gay man and a recovering alcoholic, he cared and wrote about discrimination, the loss of friends to AIDS, the challenges of living with dignity and integrity.   And as a father, he spoke with  humility about his daughter, Whitney, and what he possibly has to leave a fierce 31 year old woman who carries already his gifts within herself.

That was in his last radio show, when he knew his voice had gone to soup and so stepped away from the microphone, yearning only to finish the book he was writing, wanting to defang the conversation about deathThis, too, is familiar.  My father longs to finish one more book, his fourth since receiving his diagnosis four years ago — his own clear-eyed look into the maw of death.

That is the weird blessing of Lou,  wrote Dudley about the disease which he chummed up to by dubbing it Lou; after Lou Gehrig, of course.  The weird blessing?  There is no escape, and nothing much to do.  It’s liberating, he said.

Last month, Dudley Clendinen died at the age of 67.  His last book will be published posthumously on his adventures — absorbing, challenging, thrilling, and never dull — with dying.  On his tombstone, these words will live:  I wouldn’t have missed it.

Here’s to Dudley, and his daughter, and his long lasting gift to the world.  His robust, candid, inspiring spar with a good, short life.

Glad you were here.

* * * * * * *

Listen to Tom Hall’s interviews with Dudley Clendenin on Maryland Morning at

~ by Susan on 06/30/2012.

3 Responses to “another.Lou.story.”

  1. I remember first discovering Dudley’s writings with you last year, and being so grateful for his gutsy spar, his evocative and honest writing. I’m so sad to learn that he now numbers in the Lou tribe — the weirdly blessed and gone all-too-soon.
    thank you for yet another jewel.

  2. “…eating oatmeal with a fork” says it all, Susan. Well done.

  3. Deeply moving, Susan, and dignifying the process for all of us. Carolyn

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