On some big-city newspapers, the "cub" reporters -- the rookies -- start out doing obituaries. The idea is that the so-called obits are good practice.

A good obit is concise and packed with facts, containing the most important highlights of the deceased person's life.

Thus, the cub reporter gets valuable practice at condensing information and at selecting and organizing material based on its relativevalue to the story. Those skills are extremely valuable to news writers.

Obits also are considered good practice for developing objectivity. Reporters pride themselves on maintaining a certain professional distance from their subject matter. Obits require the reporter to handle the most delicate, even tragic, event with care and compassion.

So obituary writing is tough.

But what if the deceased was the writer's friend? What if the deceased died much before his time? What if the deceased was a person of rare courage and compassion?

The rules of obituary writing still apply. And obituary writing is tough.

I don't know how anyone else will remember the Rev. Wilbert H. Benz Jr.

I'll remember him as Bert.

I'll remember his amazing smile.

His was a smile that said, "I love you," "Life is good" and "Everything is going to be just fine," all at the same time.

Somehow, that smile said Bert would beat the leukemia. We took solace in that smile.

I'll remember his hug.

It was a hug that enveloped its happy recipient in warmth and safety. A hug that reinforced the security communicated in his amazing smile. A hug that consoled and strengthened even when Bert knew that he might not survive the cancer.

Somehow, that hug said Bert would beat the leukemia. We took solacein that hug.

I'll remember that Bert was not afraid to let his friends know that he loved them.

He showed his love in his smile, inhis hugs and in his work. He gave himself to his congregation and tothe larger community.

He worked to solve problems like alcohol and drug abuse and pollution. He showed his love by giving himself to us.

Somehow, that love said Bert would beat the leukemia. We took solace in that love.

I'll remember that Bert brought out the best in us.

I'll remember that more than a thousand people from across the region gave blood in hope that a donor could be found to provide the transplant that might save Bert's life.

I'll remember that we all hoped against the daunting odds -- 20,000-to-1 -- that a donor would be found. Each of us wanted to be the one whose blood and marrow could help keep that smile and that hug and that love alive.

By bringing out the best in us, Bert helped give us hope.

He was the onewho was dying, but he gave us hope. We took solace in that hope.

I'll remember the last time I saw Bert.

He smiled. He hugged me. He said he looked forward to his upcoming treatment and acknowledged that the odds were not encouraging. He had hope.

I took solace in his smile, his hug, his hope.

The leukemia took Bert. But we keep Bert in us. That smile lives in our minds' eyes. That hug lives in ourminds' limbs. That hope lives in the best place in our hearts.

Wehope we can grow to become as loving and as courageous as Bert. Thatwill be a tough job. Tougher than writing an obituary, and obituaries are tough to write.

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