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Lessons from an ‘Ordinary’ Person

Shelagh Gordon

By Tiffany A. Dedeaux

A friend and mentor recently shared the story of 15 journalists covering the life of an ‘ordinary’ person.  What is amazing about this story – in the beginning – is that a newspaper would allocate so many of its resources to a story that is not obviously extraordinary.  I have worked in newsrooms and I have seen segments of newscasts where negativity reigns.  We would even shake our heads and say “if it bleeds, it leads.”  Covering a woman whose life did not fit the coverage mold seemed to subtly say that stories that are positive or simply tell the tale of a human life can resonate.  I say subtle because it can be easy to forget this happened and not change the way we operate.

The idea is that Shelagh Gordon is ordinary in the sense that the media would normally say she is not remarkable enough to cover because she is not a celebrity or has not performed some obvious extra-ordinary act.  She was not the heart of a movement, but she was the heart of a family and she died unexpectedly of a brain aneurysm.  The telling of her story in the obituary of one newspaper inspired an editor and a staff of another publication to piece together her live and find lessons in learning to live and love passionately.

All Glow, No Shadows

Without darkness you cannot fully appreciate the light and so I am struck by the idea that funerals can often “feel like camp sing-alongs” and be “all glow, no shadows.”  By piecing together the story of Gordon’s life the reporters covered ‘warts and all’ so you got to see the evolution of her feeling like a ‘freak’ at not having the ability to hear in one ear, to being able to use it to her advantage as an adult by covering her good ear so that she can quietly finish reading.  If we don’t see the shadows we have no idea how bright the light is.

Change the World

The idea is that this woman was not a part of a movement so the ordinary part of her – and the remarkable part – is that she lived each day in such a way that “she didn’t change the world forcibly, but she changed many people in it” by lightening, inspiring, or by touching them “in simple ways most of us don’t because we are too caught-up and lazy.”

In what ways do you change the world?  I challenge you to ask those close to you how they would answer that same question about you.

I cannot speak for you but my world is larger today because Shelagh Gordon and the realization that our lives may be a collection of days but it is what we chose to do with those days that will make up our legacy.


The Incredible Story of Why a Newspaper Sent 15 Reporters to Cover the Funeral of an Ordinary 55-year-old Woman


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