July 14, 2001
Tales of the Non-Dead, Part I
Before I tell the tales, it is important to me that I say I am not angry at either of the two people I'm writing about. I wish they had had other ways to accomplish the goal of getting themselves off a contact list, but I do truly understand their frustration at the constant contact they were receiving. Mainly, I'm glad they're alive.
I have had two friends who were adversely affected by an overload of contact from various UNC-CH Alumni programs. In fact, these two friends, who did not know each other and are from two very different times in my life, both inadvertently announced their deaths to the members of the Alumni Association. Neither realized the word would be spread when they returned mail proclaiming themselves to be deceased.
One of these friends is Wendy, who has told in this entry how she came to do this. The other, I'll call JohnDoe, because to my knowledge he hasn't told the tale on himself in any public venue, and it's not my goal to embarrass him. I'll tell you my part of Wendy's non-demise tomorrow.
JohnDoe was the first of the undead. He is some years older than I, but we grew up in the same part of the state. He and his wife still live near that area. I got word of his demise in the Alumni Association's obituary listings, which are included in the class notes, on a Friday afternoon in the spring of a year in the late 1980's. And I was saddened, but also rather embarrassed that I had made no effort to express sympathy to his family. See, he supposedly died in November of the prior year, and I had seen some of the extended family members when I was home for Christmas.
As soon as I saw the notice, I called my mother to see what she knew of the situation. She hadn't heard about his death, either, which made both of us start to wonder if there were some mistake...she was still living in our very small town, where that sort of news would have spread.
Mother and I spent some time trying to check the veracity of the story over the weekend, but we both had a hard time tracking down anyone who would know, since it was a weekend.
The one other family member of his that I knew well enough to feel free to call was his sister, and she was out of town for the weekend. I left a message for her, basically saying I was sorry I hadn't called earlier, and that I'd appreciate it if she could call me back. I don't remember exactly what I said, but I'm pretty sure I didn't say why I was sorry I hadn't called earlier...
She called back on Sunday night, and one of the first things she said was, "If you've heard that JohnDoe is dead, I'm delighted to tell you that's not the case; he's fine. We're trying to figure out how in the world that error was made." I was the umpteenth person whose call she had returned that night, and just about everyone with whom she had spoken offered to call the Alumni Association the next day. I added my offer to the stack.
I got a chance to make that call at some point after lunch the following day. And I truly do pity the man with whom I spoke. When I announced the nature of my call, he sighed, and said, "Well, I've spent most of the day on this, and I can tell you how it happened." Seems JohnDoe had received one too many pleas for funds from the Development Office at the University, and thought he had hit upon a wonderful solution. He would let the Development people think he had died! That would surely keep them from calling him or sending more pleas. So he scribbled something to the effect of "deceased, November (date/year)" on a mailing, and returned it to the sender. Only it didn't dawn on him that the various offices in the University all used the same database for mailings to alumni. And when the Development people entered his death announcement (along with the date they received it), the obituary writer for the Alumni Association's publications received it, and wrote the notice.
I talked with his sister later in the week, and she said that the family had decided if he ever pulled a stunt like that again, he would wish he were dead.
I had to agree with that sentiment.