Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Fellow Creators Pay Tribute to Bombeck

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Fellow Creators Pay Tribute to Bombeck

Article excerpt

It seems like everyone who knew Erma Bombeck thought she was as good a human being as she was a writer. Which was pretty darn good.

"As a person, she was tops," said "Dear Abby" writer Abigail Van Buren of Bombeck, who died April 22 at the age of 69. "Everybody who knew Erma adored her. I cherished her friendship."

"She was one of the most gracious people I've ever met in this business," added widely syndicated humor columnist Dave Barry.

"Erma was just a delighted person to be with," said "The Family Circus" creator Bil Keane, a close friend and fellow Arizona resident. "She laughed easily and made others laugh easily."

Van Buren noted that Bombeck tried to be upbeat even while dealing with serious health problems - which included breast cancer and failing kidneys. She was on dialysis for several years before undergoing an ultimately unsuccessful kidney transplant April 3.

The advice columnist said Bombeck may have been "too terrific" a person, as she refused to use her celebrity status to try to get a new kidney sooner.

"She waited on fine like everyone else," said Van Buren. "Her humility and generosity were at the bottom of everything she did."

Bombeck's fans were well aware of these character traits - and responded in kind.

"Some of her loyal readers wanted to donate kidneys," noted National Society of Newspaper Columnists president Sheila Stroup. "That's quite a tribute."

Stroup called Bombeck (profiled in E&P, Feb. 13, 1988, p. 48) a "great" columnist.

"She showed us that everyday family life is worth writing about - and that maybe it's the most important thing to write about," said the New Orleans Times-Picayune columnist.

Barry, who is with the Miami Herald and Tribune Media Services, added, "Erma Bombeck taught those of us who write columns that the funniest things are the things that our readers know the best - houses, cars, kitchens and, of course, kids."

Advice columnist Ann Landers, who is with the Chicago Tribune and Creators Syndicate, said, "Erma was the original, authentic every woman. Millions of her readers saw themselves in her column every day and loved it."

Van Buren, who helped convince Bombeck to join her at Universal Press Syndicate in 1988, said, "Erma was a wonderful writer. And, of course, her sense of humor was superb."

Keane noted that Bombeck was also "prolific" - doing her column (for 700 papers), giving speeches, making Good Morning America appearances (from 1975 to 1986), and writing best-selling books.

The King Features Syndicate cartoonist said one reason for Bombeck's excellent writing was her excellent self-editing.

Keane collaborated with Bombeck on her second book (Just Wait Till You Have Children of Your Own! Doubleday, 1971), and recalled that she would expertly cut the length of chapter draft by two-thirds.

Keane's first contact with Bombeck was when he received a 1969 letter from her saying how much she liked "The Family Circus." He responded with a letter praising Bombeck's column, and mentioned he would be happy to do a book with her sometime. Her one-word answer: "When? "

The result was the Doubleday book - and a move from Ohio for Bombeck in 1971. Keane said the columnist fell in love with the Phoenix area when she came to speak at an event, so he put her in touch with a real estate agent.

After that, the Keanes and Bombecks got together many times, including some Christmas Eves. And the columnist began to get mentioned periodically in "The Family Circus."

Keane recalled one 1978 panel showing his cartoon family glumly cleaning a bathroom flooded by a backed-up toilet. The father says to the mother, "Look at it this way - Erma Bombeck would probably find something very amusing about this."

Bombeck quickly sent Keane a note reading, "The same thing happened in our own house last month, and I didn't find anything amusing about it! …

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