Joan Pugh, left, and Bill McAllen hold a book that Pugh made after Peg McAllen, Bill's mother, passed away. Each member of the Towson-based Wednesday Writers group, where Peg was a member, contributed to the book by writing something about her. (staff photo by Sarah Pastrana, Patuxent Publishing / August 24, 2011)

Aigburthvale resident Peg McAllen was 84 when she died of cancer this past summer.

Her life was summed up in 200 words in an obituary in the Baltimore Sun.

And she was lucky to get that. Though the obituary page is chock full of death notices each day, usually only two or three of the locally deceased are accorded that honor.

Two hundred words is a pretty thin stretch, considering the facts of a life that have to be included: the dates of birth and death, parents, places of residency, schools, occupations, honors and awards, weddings, children, survivors and funeral arrangements.


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The obituary barely touched on the fact that Peg McAllen had recently celebrated 35 years of sobriety, often wrote letters to the editor, was a volunteer grief counselor for Gilchrist Hospice, a ministerial candidate for the Church of Religious Science.

Nor did it mention how she tackled death from lung cancer head on.

There was also no mention that she was a member of the Towson-based Wednesday Writers, a group that has been meeting and sharing passages from their own lives since 1999.

There was no mention how McAllen's wry wit kept the other Wednesday writers laughing at her stories, including her "underpants tale" — how she had purchased 15 pairs of new underpants because she didn't want her children rifling through her underwear drawer after she died and finding tattered items.

Or how she was "a soldier for the causes she believed in," as writers' group member Marcia Gleckler wrote, "whose best weapon was her sense of humor."

Her death shocked the Wednesday Writers and Betty Walter, who founded the group. Walter suggested each member write something about McAllen.

When Walter collected the pieces the next week she was too upset to say much. Instead of having them read aloud, she handed them to fellow member Joan Eustace Pugh and said simply, "Do something with this."

Pugh knew what to do.

Her experience with Uncle Vincent became her guide.

Gone, never forgotten

Pugh was 20 months old when her Uncle Vincent was killed, at age 21, during World War II in the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Seaman First Class Vincent Francis Kohlerman was one of 318 men lost when the carrier USS Bismarck Sea went down after two kamikaze attacks on Feb. 21, 1945.

He had enlisted in the Navy in December 1942.

"His death made huge changes in my family," said Pugh, a retired Baltimore County educator and principal who grew up in Rodgers Forge and Wiltondale but now lives in Harford County.

A former "Miss Towson" in 1962, Pugh is a charter member of the Wednesday Writers.

Pugh was too young to remember Vincent, who was her godfather, but she knew him well because of the tales her mother used to tell her.