When journalist Lynn Forbish was diagnosed with a fast-moving dementia in 2006, doctors said the end wouldn’t be pretty. She could expect to live about five more years, and chances were she’d die of an infection, curled up in a fetal position.
But Forbish, 67, died Wednesday in a Janesville, Wis., memory care facility in much the same way she lived — on her own terms.
She’d started refusing food last week, clamping her teeth tight and turning her head; pretending to fall asleep. Her final hours were pain-free, with hospice workers and her favorite cousin by her side.
“She was done,” recalled her daughter-in-law, Katie Forbish, of Botetourt County. “As headstrong as she was, by God she was gonna go on her own terms.”
Profiled in a 2007 newspaper story, Forbish was known for holding reporters to her exacting, sometimes copy-skewering standards. From 1993 until her 2005 retirement, she served as the The Roanoke Times’ chief copy desk editor, the final arbiter on stories before they went to press.
When news broke at night or on weekends, her command presence enabled her to pull off coordinating phones, photographers and reporters.
Former reporter Lois Caliri described working with her on a sensitive story about opponents of a proposed AEP power line. Forbish questioned Caliri repeatedly before the story ran, weighing its merits and double-checking every name and detail.
Caliri recalled once telling her: “I love the way that. . . when you speak or need something, people come running.”
Forbish raised her eyebrows, as if to say: “They better.”
To live nearer her son, Forbish moved to Roanoke after copy editing for The St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, where she also reviewed entertainers and minced characteristically few words, telling Milton Berle in print, for instance, that he needed a new shtick.
Divorced in the mid-‘60s, she began newspapering in her Janesville hometown, where she advanced from clerk-typist to reporter, covering cops and schools and writing features — while raising two small children on her own. To pay for braces for her son, she once worked three jobs.
“She loved newspapers because she loved to learn new things, and she thrived on that deadline rush,” her son, Larry Forbish, said.
She believed, too, in newspapers’ responsibility to educate and help readers, which was why she approached a reporter in 2006 with a request to write her story — before she could no longer tell it.
As the disease progressed, her personality mellowed. Forbish joined a church, took a boyfriend and stopped snapping at people who “patronized” her by trying to guess a word she couldn’t recall.
To tease her old coworkers about not visiting her more, she threatened to send them a Christmas card that read: “I have dementia, not [expletive] herpes!”
In July 2007, she moved to a facility in Janesville, where her daughter and many other relatives live. Before she became immobile, she liked to wander into other patients’ rooms to socialize and watch television. She loved laughing with people, even after she could no longer talk.
Not long ago, she re-asserted her legendary will by refusing to roll balls of yarn — she never was the crafty type. Relatives suggested music therapy instead.
“It was down with the yarn, up with the Beatles!” Katie Forbish recalled, laughing. “I’m just so proud that she kept her spunk until the very end.”
— Roanoke Times, April 16, 2010