Read Part 1 here and read Part 2 here.

When news spread that metereologist John Winter had committed suicide, Robin Richter was upset.  This man had been a “friend” for many years, bringing her the daily forecast for several years on the local news station.

Robin was not alone in her grief, as many other fans and friends of John Winter had begun expressing their sympathies on websites and in the news media.

“Since he was part of a local news station I knew there would be something on their site,” says Richter.  She visited the obituary on (Tampa Bay Online) and signed the guestbook as shown below:


The guestbook, which is managed by, was familiar to Richter as she’s signed online guestbooks for other funerals and was aware of the brand.

None of that is shocking.  She was merely following in the footsteps of over 10,000 others who have signed the book for Mr. Winter.  But what was waiting for her in her email inbox two days later was a shock.

“It was an extremely long email.  It started out very kindly and then it went directly into a sales pitch for her funeral home.  I was totally offended,”  says Richter.

“My hair stood on end, I was so aggravated that this woman had used my words of sympathy to…try to sell me pre-need care.  I did not say I wanted to be connected with that, I did not have the option to opt into that.”

What Richter did opt into was allowing other readers to be able to contact her.  The guestbook allows others to contact signers.  To do so, you must click on each individual entry and compose a message.

While she admits to choosing the option to allow contact, “that does not mean I wanted to be contacted to be solicited,” she asserts.

The email writer, Sharon Blackburn, a family counselor at Garden of Memories and Myrtle Hill Memorial Park, suggests includes a line that leads the reader to believe that John’s family was aware of or approved the message by writing (correction made 5/2/07):

I believe John would have wanted you to have this Simplicity Planner. If for no other reason, to help answer some of the questions and ease the burden that Karen Winter has undoubtedly had to deal with since April 5, 2007.

Robin admits that she didn’t read far enough to get to that part.  She was too offended to continue, so she sent it to me.  When I read the section to her, she was beside herself.

“I would be surprised if Karen knew this was being done and her behalf.  And that’s the way it makes it sound.  It makes sound like the family completely endorsed it and felt it was okay for several thousand people to get an email soliciting this company product,” she said in shock.

Ms. Blackburn claims that she had no ill intentions toward any readers.  She also asserts that she sent the email to “many”  several people (she has recently corrected me) and that this was the first negative comment she has received.

TOMORROW:  Part 4 – Ms. Blackburn’s Response