Editor’s Note: Gerry Hostetler, born Geraldine Shinn, died Sunday at Presbyterian Hospital of complications following a stroke. She was 76 years old. After retiring from the Charlotte Observer in 2008, where she wrote an obituary column, Gerry began writing a similar column each week for Qcitymetro.com. Her last obituary column was published here on Monday, May 7. Below is an obituary column Gerry wrote for herself and left at the Observer upon her retirement.
Gerry’s first job was at an ice cream shop at age 13. She retired at age 73 after working 70 work-years, 20 of which were two jobs concurrently.
In 1978, she started in the Observer’s newsroom as a part-time obit clerk and wrote free obits until 1996, when they became classified advertisements. “There was no greener soul on earth,” Gerry said, “and I was computer-illiterate to boot.”
Before fax machines and email, obits were phoned in from funeral homes. “We had to type fast,” Gerry said, “very fast. Funeral homes waited their turn and the phones’ blinking lights often looked like a Christmas tree. One night McEwen, one of the 20-odd funeral homes in Charlotte, called with 10 complete obits.”
She felt that there were many people whose stories deserved more than the bare essentials. “I would do an occasional obit-news story,” Gerry said, “and they became quite popular. That prompted me to envision a column with more information and above all – more warmth.”
Gerry learned to cope with a grieving spouse by asking how the pair met. “Almost immediately, he or she was back in the moment and ended up laughing about their dates. I loved that! I always felt that listening to them reminisce was so healing for them.
“I loved writing these stories, which not only filled a deep need for our readers, but also fed my hunger to write. My dad sent me pages from the Shinn family history that connected us to William Shakespeare. No wonder I love to write.”
Gerry had a special affinity for obit stories. She appeared on local, national and international television shows based on the subject. Gerry won the second annual Lifetime Achievement award from the Society of Professional Obituary Writers in 2008, when she hosted its convention in Charlotte.
Gerry was born in Concord to Alwyn and Eunice Smith Shinn and moved to Charlotte at age 3. She attended Harding High but “I believed getting married was far more important than graduating,” she said. In 1950 she married Calvert Lee Loveless, an Observer copy boy. “Precisely nine months and two hours later our only child, daughter Jeri Leigh, was born before we parted five years later.”
Gerry earned her GED and enrolled in Charlotte College 1957-59 (UNCC’s predecessor). About 20 years later, she and her daughter joined the graphic arts program at Central Piedmont Community College in the same old Central High School building.
Jeri said, “She has always been my inspiration as I’m sure many mothers have been, but I think she was truly one in a million. She taught me that with hard work you can make anything happen. That it’s just a matter of will. If you really want it, go for it!”
Gerry applied to the Observer in 1952 for a secretarial job. “I was sadly under-qualified and not even bright enough to know it,” she said. Gerry started work at Virginia Paper Co. (now Xpedex) in 1953 and stayed 13 years before moving to Memphis with Charles, her new submarine sailor husband, whom she married in 1966. “We had gotten custody of his boys, Michael and David, and life was lively, to say the least,” Gerry said.
After three years at the Memphis Naval Air Station, she returned to Virginia Paper for a total of 20 years. She next joined Artistic Letter Shop, where she worked 20 years as typesetter, office manager and sometimes janitor.
“After a dozen years and a divorce, I needed extra income and applied for the part-time job at the Observer,” she said. “I worked my first 20 Observer years while at the print shop and completed 30 years at the Observer in March 2008. Together, they almost totaled my age.”
“In 1980 a friend introduced me to ‘Big John’ Mauney,” Gerry said, “and we were companions until our marriage in 2009. I wish everyone had someone like him; his love, care and consideration have been absolutely unbelievable.”