Executive tombstones

As narcissistic an age as we live in, you'd think all the big egos floating around our CBDs and boardrooms would be paying a little more attention to how they'll be remembered; y'know, once they've passed into the afterlife.

While people inclined this way probably think "well, they'll just Google me, or read all those Fin Review profiles or watch that doco ESPN shot about me in 2024" - this all presupposes the continuation of a way of life we'd recognise.

The pharaohs of Egypt - some of the most powerful men on the globe when they were ruling - would have been gobsmacked that the world would change so much, that the grubby, starving commoners of Thebes would feel safe to rob their tombs of gold and silver, vases of oil, furniture, even grain!

Which worked out OK for the pharaohs because they also had obelisks and carvings coming out of their Horus - describing their every deed. The dry heat of Egypt also meant records written on papyrus survived thousands of years.

Your photo albums get mould on them after six months in the back of your cupboard; they ain't seeing out the century, let alone the millennium. Your home videos and Facebook fan page? Pfft. What if the power goes out for four or five hundred years and we get another dark age - and there's been plenty of 'em - then what, champ?

If you're a truly great person, it's a good chance your deeds and even your words will be remembered by posterity because of the sheer volume of source material recounting your fabulousness.

However, if you're just rich or accomplished in your field, what are your chances of being remembered by anyone beyond your grandkids? Historians say it takes roughly three generations for fact and fiction to become hopelessly intertwined. In 100 years, you'll just be some old dude with a strange haircut.

My solution to the horror of historical obscurity is cheap, simple and been proven to work for at least three to four thousand years so far.

It's your tombstone.


Take a stroll through monotheistic graveyards - Jewish, Muslim, Christian - and the headstones are positively bashful in the amount of information they give you about the departed.

Name. Date the person was born, when they died, maybe the names of their partner and offspring, a line of appropriate scripture or "He was a good man".

Wow, there's a legacy.

It's not like there's any rules to this stuff. You can put whatever you want on your headstone - fill the whole thing up with a nice 30-point type and let the world know what you were about.

If there's one thing we know about graveyards, it's they eventually get forgotten about or built on top of. Hell, even Richard III ended up under a carpark

Steve Jobs and Michael Jackson are buried in unmarked graves. Astronaut Neil Armstrong got buried at sea. You've got a better chance of being remembered than any of those dudes if you do this right. In 800 years, when archaeologists are poking around in the dirt that used to be Shady Pines Memorial Cemetery ... bingo!

While we know plenty about the ruling elite males of some ancient civilisations, "the vast mass of Greek and Roman populations and their subjects have vanished unheard," writes British historian Charles Freeman, "Women's voice have been lost".

"Any assessment of these disenfranchised groups has had to be decoded from the texts that survive. The most abundant source of new texts is epigraphy [and] perhaps the most common inscriptions are from tombstones."   

"The value of [this] material is immense, and it is often the only context in which voices outside those of the upper classes survive," Freeman writes.

So there you have it: Executive tombstones.

Just don't shop here.

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