Keith Zimmer started keeping track of dead people as an experiment in 1992.
He worked at the Central Library in downtown St. Louis and he and his bosses wondered: Would anyone want a list of the obituaries published in the Post-Dispatch?
The librarians soon found their answer: Once the Internet came into wide use in the mid-1990s, library officials got requests from people around the world wanting to look up deaths chronicled in the newspaper.
Along with the obituaries, which are news stories written by reporters, Mr. Zimmer also indexed death notices, which are paid ads in the newspaper's classified section. The Post-Dispatch alone has published hundreds of thousands of obituaries and death notices.
He also indexed obituaries published in the newspaper the St. Louis Argus and created an index for local military personnel who were killed in action, missing in action or who were prisoners of war in World War I or II.
Mr. Zimmer created and maintained the index himself, said Brenda McDonald, director of downtown's Central Library.
Keith B. Zimmer was still updating the index when he died unexpectedly on Saturday (July 30, 2011) at St. Louis University Hospital. Doctors found blood clots in his lungs, his family said Wednesday.
He was 61 and lived near the Anheuser-Busch brewery.
Mr. Zimmer never worked anywhere except the library. The oldest of three children, he started shelving books at the library at 1301 Olive Street in 1966 while still a student at McKinley High School. After graduating, he became a full-time clerk in December 1970.
His last job title was adult services provider, working with periodicals.
Mr. Zimmer had a keen interest in genealogy and started working on the obituary index in 1992 "as an experiment to see if it caught on," recalled his immediate supervisor, Joe Winkler, manager of research collections.
And it did, "the minute we put it on the Internet," Winkler added.
The indexes are listed on the library's website, slpl.org.
This obituary will be among the first that Mr. Zimmer didn't index since he started nearly 20 years ago.
McDonald, the library director, said: "We will definitely try to continue his work and finish up the years that we still want to do. Keith was a wonderful person and employee — he is missed already."
Several library patrons attended the memorial service for Mr. Zimmer on Tuesday; burial will be private.
Among the survivors are his sister, Janet Kozemczak of St. Louis. Mr. Zimmer was divorced and had no children.