Object 45

The Saint of Safekeepers

2034, New York, US

An obituary, and a sign of isolation and connection in the 2030s:

In her 30 years as a notary, Natasha Willis worked for thousands of clients across the world. She preferred to talk to her clients directly. "I can do a better job if I talk to people face to face," she once told her sister Elizabeth, "without these agents and mimic scripts getting in the way." It might take her more time and it lost her some customers and fees, but she was happier for it.

Most customers had straightforward jobs for her: witnessing signatures, identifying individuals, drafting contracts, providing affidavits, the usual work of a notary.

Some had more unusual requests, requests that would make Ms. Willis pause. Wills that needed to be drawn up instantly. Contracts providing password keychains to apparent strangers. Power of attorney to long-sundered children. Giving away beloved personal possessions.

Ms. Willis would pay special attention to those unusual requests. If she noticed something strange in how these clients acted, she would simply ask them, "Is there anything else I can do to help you? Anything you would like to talk about? I have the time."

Sometimes, this was enough to draw out the truth that they were planning to end their lives. They would step back from the edge and talk. It's thought that Ms. Willis helped dozens of people in this way over her years as a notary, through her insistence and dedication to providing a service in person. "Notaries have to be human," said Ms. Willis. "That meant that the people I was talking to knew they could relate to me. I wasn't just another script made to please."

She died at home on Thursday at the age of 69, with her husband Troy, 73, and children Max, Oliver, and Sarah present.

Natasha Willis was born on February 14th, 1965, in Brooklyn. As a child, she harbored ambitions of becoming a judge, but her lack of connections and the general sex discrimination of the time conspired against her. Instead, she worked as a secretary during her twenties and thirties, eventually becoming an executive assistant at a major New York law firm.

With her savings, Ms. Willis went to community college to train as a notary. Upon qualifying, she slowly built up a trusted business based on her unstinting dedication to her clients. It was clear that Ms. Willis would go beyond the call of duty for her profession. Many clients and their families would thank her for her help and care, and some even offered to pay her more, but she consistently refused.

"Anyone would do it," she would remark to people who inquired. "Anyone who was paying attention could see these people were hurting, and they didn't want comfort from a machine, they wanted to talk to a real live person. They could tell the difference."

Ms. Willis would check in with some clients for weeks or even months after the initial job, taking time to connect with them over a call. She might even travel across the country to meet with people whom she felt needed physical contact.

As her efforts became more widely known, she was awarded the Order of Merit by the Mayor of New York. On news of her death, the Office of the Mayor paid tribute to her for the lives she had saved: "Natasha reminded us of how we can change the lives of others for the better. All it takes is for someone to act."