Roy Exum: How I Want To Go

Friday, October 12, 2018 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

It is no secret that I enjoy reading obituaries, often wishing I’d had the chance to visit and talk with the deceased because people of every walk fascinate me. Some of the best ones I’ll even save, hoping to use some of the words or the style they were written when I try to memorialize a friend. As I point out I may have just read one of the best ever, I must also admit I am jealous because when my time comes, this is the type of obituary I would really want written about me.

Rick Stein, who was 71, died in Wilmington, Del., on September 28 and it was quickly established he had a passion for comedy and laughter. It is now obvious that his daughter, Alex Walsh, a former television news writer in Washington, shares the same trait – the obituary she wrote for her dad has not only gone viral but total strangers are now writing her, adding further clues about her “mysterious” father.

“The whole thing has been bittersweet,” she laughed about the obit when contacted by the Washington Post. “Finding humor in the darkest times is how our family copes with sadness and loss, and it is comforting to know people have found joy reading my dad’s story,” she said. Alex also revealed there are about a dozen family jokes in the obituary, and that some of the officials’ names are really those of Rick’s closest buddies.

But even that has a downside. “My father would have absolutely loved this … but he is the one person I want to call and say, ‘Oh my gosh, did you see this one?' ”

Alex quite masterfully introduces Rick’s survivors as she names them with their theories of who Rick really was and all he did. To be honest, Rick was a jeweler and an oriental rug merchant in Wilmington before moving to Boulder, Colorado, and opening some restaurants. Alex had a different idea and … oh, what a tale she told.

Total strangers gleefully helped embellish Mr. Stein’s obit, those thoughts included among the condolences on the funeral home website, and the more outlandish the better. According to the story in the Post, “They included Stein’s performance at the Metropolitan Opera, saving a man from a shark attack with a piece of chewing gum, fighting off a bear while wearing a Speedo, carrying a man down Mount Everest on his back, winning second place in the Boston Marathon, and running whisky out of Canada over the frozen lakes.”

I’m tell you, this obituary is darn-near perfect and, as you read it, don’t dare peek at the last few lines, which finally gives the prank away and – you’ll see – makes it all the more magical:

* * *

RICK STEIN PRESUMED DEAD AFTER A BOUT WITH A RARE TYPE OF CANCER

Rick Stein, 71, of Wilmington was reported missing and presumed dead on September 27, 2018 when investigators say the single-engine plane he was piloting, The Northrop, suddenly lost communication with air traffic control and disappeared over the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Rehoboth Beach. Philadelphia police confirm Stein had been a patient at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital where he was being treated for a rare form of cancer.

Hospital spokesman Walter Heisenberg says doctors from Stein’s surgical team went to visit him on rounds when they discovered his room was empty. Security footage shows Stein leaving the building at approximately 3:30 Thursday afternoon, but then the video feed mysteriously cuts off. Authorities say they believe Stein took an Uber to the Philadelphia airport where they assume he somehow gained access to the aircraft.

“The sea was angry that day,” said NTSB lead investigator Greg Fields in a press conference. “We have no idea where Mr. Stein may be, but any hope for a rescue is unlikely.”

Stein’s location isn’t the only mystery. It seems no one in his life knew his exact occupation.

His daughter, Alex Walsh of Wilmington, appeared shocked by the news. “My dad couldn’t even fly a plane. He owned restaurants in Boulder, Colorado and knew every answer on Jeopardy. He did the New York Times crossword in pen. I talked to him that day and he told me he was going out to get some grappa. All he ever wanted was a glass of grappa.”

Stein’s brother, Jim, echoed similar confusion. “Rick and I owned Stuart Kingston Galleries together. He was a jeweler and oriental rug dealer, not a pilot.” Meanwhile, Missel Leddington of Charlottesville claimed her brother was a cartoonist and freelance television critic for the New Yorker.

David Walsh, Stein’s son-in-law, said he was certain Stein was a political satirist for the Huffington Post while grandsons Drake and Sam said they believed Stein wrote an internet sports column for ESPN covering Duke basketball, FC Barcelona soccer, the Denver Broncos and the Tour de France. Stein’s granddaughter Evangeline, claims he was a YouTube sensation who had just signed a seven-figure deal with Netflix.

When told of his uncle’s disappearance, Edward Stein said he was baffled since he believed Stein worked as a trail guide in Rocky Mountain National Park. “He took me on a hike up the Lily Peak Trail back in the 90s. He knew every berry, bush and tree on that trail.”

Nephew James Stein of Los Angeles claimed his uncle was an A&R consultant for Bad Boy records and ran a chain of legal recreational marijuana dispensaries in Colorado called Casablunta. Niece Courtney Stein, a former Hollywood agent, said her uncle had worked as a contributing writer for Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm and was currently consulting on a new series with Larry David.

People who knew Stein have reported his occupation as everything from gourmet chef and sommelier to botanist, electrician, mechanic and even spy novelist. Police say the volume of contradictory information will make it nearly impossible to pinpoint Stein’s exact location.

In fact, the only person who might be able to answer the question, who is the real Rick Stein is his wife and constant companion for the past 14 years, Susan Stein. Detectives say they were unable to interview Mrs. Stein, however neighbors say they witnessed her leaving the home the couple shared wearing dark sunglasses and a fedora, loading multiple suitcases into her car.

FAA records show she purchased a pair of one-way tickets to Rome which was Mr. Stein’s favorite city. An anonymous source with the airline reports the name used to book the other ticket was Juan Morefore DeRoad, which, according to the FBI, was an alias Stein used for many years.

That is one story.

Another story is that Rick never left the hospital and died peacefully with his wife and his daughter holding tightly to his hands. 

You can choose which version you want to believe or share your own story about Rick with us at the Greenville Country Club on Friday, November 9, 2018 from 3:00-6:00 p.m.

* * *

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” – Benjamin Franklin

royexum@aol.com


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