In my experience as a reporter covering local communities, it seems that every year there are a few weeks when, among the daily dose of news stories and friendly features, I am asked to write stories about people who have died.

Unlike the daily obituaries notifying us of the deaths of people throughout Clatsop County, the stories I encounter during this time are a little more unusual or more personal or thought-provoking.

And, it seems, those deaths happen one after another, completely unexpected.

We write about some people because they were crime victims or were beloved in the community. We choose not to write about some deaths because of the circumstances, and going into great detail would cause only more pain to loved ones.

During the past three weeks, while the community has debated local issues, voted for candidates, celebrated the retirement of a well-known local personality and unveiled the latest art for spring, I have been notified in one way or another about the deaths of community members.

The first occurred when the bodies of Laura Foster and her longtime friend, Guy Phillips, were found in Foster’s home. The deaths and subsequent arrest of Foster’s ex-husband, Marcus Foster, prompted a Saturday morning news conference by Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis and Seaside Police Chief Bob Gross. It was a big enough story to draw Portland television reporters to Seaside.

Information about these kinds of events and the people involved comes in small bits that result in more questions than facts. First, you learn there was a crime. Then, you learn more details, and, after asking questions and trying to piece the events together, you think you know enough to write a coherent story.

But what I find frustrating about these stories is that you never know what really happened, who these people were and what they said to each other before the crime occurred. No matter how much you try to know them even after their deaths, they will always remain strangers.

I learned that Laura Foster loved animals and she had three adult children. It seems that she and Marcus Foster doted on their grandchildren. And, someone, who was shocked at the news, told me that the Marcus they know is a kind and gentle person.

With those opinions, where are the facts of the case? That will be something for the prosecutors and the grand jury to tease out. We can only wonder, and even when those facts eventually are detailed in a news story, we on the outside looking in won’t really understand what might have triggered such an outcome.

Just two days after the news conference, I learned of another, quieter death. A young woman in the community took her own life. It was a shock to so many who knew her and her parents and to those who watched her grow up. The circumstances surrounding her death have irreversibly affected other families in the community as well.

As a reporter, I feel that these stories are best left unwritten. Maybe other reporters would think I’m not doing my job, not digging for details. The simple obituary told what school she had attended, described her interests and named her survivors. Maybe supplying that information for public awareness was all that was needed for someone so young.

On the other hand, the death of one of Seaside’s most beloved volunteers cries for public acknowledgement.

Glenn Bard, 79, a quiet, gentle man who volunteered for the Seaside Fire Department for 50 years, died May 9. He still served the department as its chaplain.

“He was our chaplain and rightly so,” Division Chief Chris Dugan told me. “He never said anything ill about anyone, and if someone did make comments, he would walk out of the room.

“You could talk with him for a couple of minutes, and you knew he was a good person with a golden heart.”

The Seaside City Council took a few moments last Monday night to remember Bard. Jeramy Houston, a volunteer firefighter who works with Medix Ambulance, recalled being a child and seeing Bard playing Santa Claus for several local organizations.

“My brother and I are the only two people in the fire department who have sat on Glenn’s lap,” said Houston, choking back tears as he spoke.

Bard, a former firefighter, lieutenant, captain and assistant chief, was the runner-up for the Oregon Volunteer Firefighters Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award last year.

In addition to the fire department, Bard’s service over the years included the Seaside Planning Commission, South County Food Bank and Seaside Kids Inc. He delivered meals to the homebound and helped kids with their reading in the SMART program at school.

“He was constantly doing something,” Dugan said. “The community is going to miss him. He was the poster child for volunteerism in the community.”

Bard, whose photo hangs among other community leaders on the “Wall of Fame” at the Seaside Convention Center, received the Seaside Chamber of Commerce’s Byron Award for community service.

I asked him once how he felt about the honors he received and he replied that being a volunteer is “just a part of what you do.”

As a reporter who covers the life of a community, part of my responsibility is writing about the deaths of some community members. I don’t mind that aspect of the job. What I find is that they often have lessons to teach, even when they’re gone. I am only the messenger, hoping to understand those lessons.

Nancy McCarthy is the South County reporter for The Daily Astorian. Her column appears every other week.

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