Dorothy Parker is known for having been a prolific writer and poet. She was born in 1893 and died in 1967. She is famous for her satirical style and biting wit. She was a member of the legendary Algonquin Round Table, a group that included Robert Benchley, an American humorist, and Robert E. Sherwood, an American playwright and screenwriter, both renowned in their own right.
Ms. Parker was known for her sardonic wit. One merely has to search her name on the Internet to find numerous quotes that fall into that category. For instance, she is quoted as saying, “That would be a good thing to cut on my tombstone: Wherever she went, including here, it was against her better judgment.” That quote seems appropriate for this Blog entry.
Ms. Parker bequeathed her estate to Martin Luther King, Jr., and upon his untimely death, to the NAACP. Ms. Parker was cremated. But, alas, she left no instructions about what she wanted done with her ashes. At first, they were unclaimed. In 1973, they were sent to her attorney’s office. Her ashes remained in a file cabinet belonging to her attorney’s colleague until 1988 when the NAACP claimed them. The NAACP buried them in a garden outside of its Baltimore headquarters and dedicated a lovely plaque. One line of the plaque states, “For her epitaph, she suggested, ‘Excuse my dust.’” Fitting.
A couple of years ago, when the NAACP moved its headquarters into the City of Baltimore, and was planning another move, to Washington, D.C., the subject of Ms. Parker’s ashes arose. What was to become of them?
Well, by now, Ms. Parker’s relatives opined that the ashes should be moved to the family plot in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. After all, although she was born in New Jersey, she considered herself a New Yorker. In August 2020, the urn containing her ashes was exhumed and re-buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, presumably Ms. Parker’s final resting place. The memorial was grand, befitting a woman of such renown. A headstone was erected. Her fifty-three-year journey was over.
What is the moral of this story? Is there a moral? Not really, but a lesson to be learned to avoid this type of situation is to execute as part of your estate planning a simple document called an “Appointment of Agent to Control Disposition of Remains.” In that document, you can designate an agent to control the disposition of your remains and specify any special instructions about them, such as whether you want to be cremated or buried and, if so, where. Of course, the document becomes operative only upon your death and can be revoked at any time prior to then, assuming you have the mental capacity to do so.
With all Dorothy Parker’s writings, just one more would have avoided having to “[e]xcuse [her] dust” as it traveled about for more than fifty years.