(Excerpt about Erma Bombeck from Dave Astor’s new memoir Comic (and Column) Confessional is reprinted by permission of the author. The book chronicles Astor’s years covering cartoonists, columnists and other celebrities for Editor & Publisher magazine.)
Erma Bombeck, one of the funniest columnists of either gender, died at age 69 in April 1996 after an unsuccessful kidney transplant that followed several years of dialysis — so I quickly called up some of her journalism-world peers for a tribute story. A sampling of their comments: “Erma was a wonderful writer,” said advice columnist Abigail Van Buren. “She showed us that everyday life is worth writing about,” noted National Society of Newspaper Columnists president Sheila Stroup of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “She was one of the most gracious people I’ve ever met in the business,” recalled humor columnist Dave Barry.
Van Buren said Bombeck may have been “too terrific” a person, refusing to use her celebrity status to try to get a new kidney sooner. “She waited in line like everyone else,” noted the “Dear Abby” writer with a touch of wonder in her voice.
Bombeck, a longtime Ohio resident who later moved to Arizona, authored more than a dozen best-selling books. She collaborated with “The Family Circus” cartoonist Bil Keane on 1971’s Just Wait Till You Have Children of Your Own!, and I later heard Bil joke: I’m the only person other than Bill Bombeck who’s been between the covers with Erma!”
One way Erma’s name and her suburban humor live on is via the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop associated with the University of Dayton, her alma mater. The biennial workshop was formerly directed by humor columnist Time Bete, who would undoubtedly confirm that “biennial” means “every two years.”
— Dave Astor
Dave Astor blogs for the Huffington Post. He also writes the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” column, which appears weekly in the Montclair (N.J.) Times and serves on the National Society of Newspaper Columnists board. For 25 years he wrote for Editor and Publisher.