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U.S. man uses his own obituary to come clean on fake PhD, theft

This undated photo provided by Starks Funeral Parlor shows Val Patterson, left, and his wife Mary Jane, of Utah. Patterson, a 59-year-old man who wrote his own obituary before he died last week, used the opportunity to come clean. His friends and family learned Sunday, July 15, 2012 that the man they thought held a doctorate from the University of Utah received the degree thanks to a paperwork mistake and that he never even graduated.


What would you confess if you could not be punished?

Val Patterson, a U.S. man who died of throat cancer, used his death notice to offer a mea culpa for misdeeds ranging from the trivial to the serious, including that he had stolen a safe and, as a college dropout, used a PhD awarded by accident to get a job.

He closes by apologizing to his wife of 33 years for smoking, which made him "the thief" of additional time they could have spent together.

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The unusual death notice – which was published last week in the Salt Lake Tribune – has sparked a out-pouring of on-line reaction. One person called it the "Best. Obit. Ever."

The man's wife, Mary Jane Patterson, has said that what he wrote is true. She said that he wanted to set a new standard for death notices, which he thought tended to be too boring.

"Everybody who knew Val just knew that's how he was," she told the local paper this week. "I guess he is getting the last laugh, his 15 minutes of fame. I am not sure he would really like it because we are pretty private people. He wanted a good reaction, but I don't think he expected this."

Mr. Patterson's death notice starts out traditionally. He mentions his birth and death dates, the schools he attended and a bit about his interests and personality. He lauds his wife, with whom he was "inseparable, happy, fulfilled."

But then he acknowledges regrets. Some are minor – kicking stones into a geyser and hijinks that apparently got him banned for life at several amusement parks – but others more serious.

"I AM the guy who stole the safe from the Motor View Drive Inn back in June, 1971," he admits. "I could have left that unsaid, but I wanted to get it off my chest. Also, I really am NOT a PhD. What happened was that the day I went to pay off my college student loan at the [University of Utah], the girl working there put my receipt into the wrong stack, and two weeks later, a PhD diploma came in the mail. I didn't even graduate, I only had about 3 years of college credit. In fact, I never did even learn what the letters 'PhD' even stood for."

He apologizes to his fellow electronics engineers but adds that they would have to admit his designs "always worked very well, and were well engineered."

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His conscience somewhat unburdened, Mr. Patterson shifts gears for the final part of his death notice, speaking of his regret for taking up smoking while feeling young and invincible.

"I have robbed my beloved Mary Jane of a decade or more of the two of us growing old together and laughing at all the thousands of simple things that we have come to enjoy and fill our lives with such happy words and moments," he wrote. "My pain is enormous, but it pales in comparison to watching my wife feel my pain as she lovingly cares for and comforts me. I feel such the 'thief' now – for stealing so much from her – there is no pill I can take to erase that pain."

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About the Author

Oliver Moore joined the Globe and Mail's web newsroom in 2000 as an editor and then moved into reporting. A native Torontonian, he served four years as Atlantic Bureau Chief and has worked also in Afghanistan, Grenada, France, Spain and the United States. More


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