Erma Bombeck Biography: A Life Of Humor

Erma Bombeck had one of the longest running columns in newspaper history. At the same time, she battled breast cancer and a deadly kidney disorder.

Erma Louise (Harris) Bombeck was born in Dayton, Ohio, in 1927. Her father, a crane operator, died of a stroke when Erma was just 9-years old, leaving the family in near-poverty like conditions after their home and furniture were repossessed by the bank.

At the age of 20, Bombeck was diagnosed with polycistic kidney disease, a hereditary disorder which causes cysts to form on the kidneys. Told that she would one day suffer kidney failure, Erma went on with her life, destined not to be controlled by her disease. Erma enrolled in the University of Dayton during her sophomore year after attending Ohio University for her first year of college. . Longing to be a journalist, Erma was told by professors that she would never succeed in writing. Hoping to prove them wrong, in 1949, Erma took her first job in the field of journalism, as a reporter for the Ohio Journal Herald. That same year, she married Bill Bombeck, a school administrator, she had met and courted in college.

After just five years with the paper, Erma and Bill were ready to start a family, and she left her career behind. The couple had three children during the 1950s: Betsy, Andy, and Matt. During this same time, Erma's mother, a factory worker, passed away. Neither of her parents lived to experience her phenomenal success.

As her children reached school age, Erma spent months talking to the editor of a local paper, hawking the idea of producing a daily humor column. The editor of the paper was not thrilled with the idea of a homemaker column written from the perspective of a 37-year old unemployed journalist, but agreed anyway. "At Wit's End," debuted in the "Kettering-Oakwood Times" in 1964. Erma was paid $3 for each column and found a huge following in housewives around Ohio. As news of the humorous column spread, "At Wit's End" became a nationally syndicated column in 1965, running twice weekly in some 500 newspapers. In 1971, Erma and Bill packed up the family and moved to Paradise Valley, Arizona.

For the next 30 years, Erma wrote about being a mother, wife, journalist, and woman. She began giving speeches at Universities and writing books, made up largely of her popular column.

In 1991, Erma was diagnosed with breast cancer and checked into the hospital. She underwent a mastectomy shortly thereafter. Two years later, her kidneys began to fail, and Erma began a daily routine of dialysis, which she underwent at home, four times each day. Erma's doctors informed her she needed a new kidney and she was immediately added to the kidney transplant list.

After three years of waiting and daily treatments, Erma Bombeck received a kidney transplant on April 4, 1996. For the first time in her life, she addressed her disease with her readers, writing about illness, compassion, and suffering. Her readers responded with thousands of letters of their own.

Erma Bombeck died of complications from the kidney transplant April 22, 1996. She was 69 years old. She is survived by her husband of 47 years and three children.

During the course of her career, Bombeck published more than four thousand syndicated columns in 900 papers nationwide, wrote 15 best-selling books, and became on of the world's most beloved humorist columns.

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