The editor of a Kentucky newspaper has apologized to a local family after his publication refused to print an 87-year-woman’s obituary unless a criticism at President Donald Trump was removed.
Frances Irene Finley Williams’ family originally submitted her obituary to Louisville’s Courier-Journal in the days following her death. It described Williams, who died Nov. 21, 2018, as a “very, very spirited woman” and “a passionate Democrat” who loved animals and Elvis Presley and “did not suffer fools gladly.”
Then, a contentious line: “Her passing was hastened by her continued frustration with the Trump administration.”
Days before the obituary was set to run in the print edition of The Courier-Journal, Williams’ son, Art Williams, and daughter, Carol Duff, were told it had been rejected, despite the fact that the family had paid $1,684 for it to appear.
“We are not able to publish the obituary as is, due to the negative content within the obituary text,” the obituary office at the Courier-Journal’s parent company, Gannett, reportedly told the family in an email.
Though Duff and her brothers told The Washington Post they “didn’t understand” Gannett’s reasoning, they opted to omit the Trump line from their mother’s obituary, so it could be published ahead of a Dec. 28 memorial service.
But days later, Art Williams publicly criticized the company’s decision on Facebook, where he reportedly wrote, “My mom would have been offended — and I hope you are too.”
He told Newsweek in an interview published Wednesday that he believes America’s politically divisive climate and, in particular, the Trump administration worsened his mother’s congestive heart condition.
“She was very disheartened by the way Trump conducted himself,” he said, “and the way things were going in the country.”
The Courier-Journal’s Joseph Gerth supported Art Williams’ claim, arguing in a Tuesday column that the obituary should have been run exactly as it had been originally presented.
“Even if people can’t vote from the grave … some of them are going to want to speak from it,” the columnist wrote. “And people should be able to say what they want about politics in obituaries they pay for, no matter who they support or oppose.”
Gerth’s article also featured a lengthy quote from Courier-Journal editor Richard Green, who offered the Williams family “our deepest condolences and apologies” and has also offered to re-run the obituary or provide a refund.
“In this political climate we now find ourselves, partisanship should have no role in deciding what gets included in an obituary that captures a loved one’s life — especially one as amazing as what Mrs. Williams led,” Green added. “I’m certain she is missed greatly by those who loved her.”
Still, Art Williams is hopeful the paper will offer a more direct apology to his widowed father, Bruce, who is a World War II veteran.
“My dad was willing to sacrifice his life for his country for freedom of speech,” he told Newsweek. “And it’s kind of ironic that a champion of speech would censor an obituary.”
Duff, meanwhile, believes the political discourse that the obituary has prompted would’ve pleased her mother.
“It’s getting people talking about something that was really important to her,” she told The Washington Post.