To the families in the Mobile and Baldwin County area:
With feelings of both joy and sadness, I will soon retire after 25 years as the city of Mobile’s cemetery manager. Counting the four summers of my high school years, the summer of 2020 is my 50th as a cemetery professional. Because my career began when I was a young teenager, working as a grass cutter and a grave digger, I often say that I learned my profession from the underground, up! I’ve met thousands of you over the years, and each of you has touched my life. I hope and pray that I touched your life in a positive way.
Whether it was during my years as director of the Catholic Cemetery of Mobile, as vice president of Mobile Memorial Gardens, my years as a funeral counselor at several area funeral homes, or during my two-and-a-half decades with the city of Mobile, it has been my sad duty to meet and work with thousands of families in Mobile and Baldwin counties during one of the most difficult times of their lives.
There is rarely pleasure under the circumstances of my introduction to people. Most professionals can tell people that they were happy to be of service; not so for those in my profession. There can be no pleasure surrounding the services we provide. The vast majority of the work I’ve done over the years comes under the professional heading of “family service”; and while there is no pleasure in providing that service, there is great satisfaction in providing the best possible family service.
Those in the death care profession know that when a person passes away, that family must place a great deal of trust in the funeral and cemetery professionals they select to help them. Placing such trust is not a matter of choice but necessity. When a death occurs, the family must trust their death care professionals. It is not only a trust but an honor and a privilege that a family bestows on us.
So many of you have placed that trust in me over these many years, that I felt obliged to tell you how grateful I am that you gave me the honor and the privilege of serving you in your time of need. I’m not sure if every one of you was totally satisfied with the service I provided. But, I can say that I always did my very best to be worthy of your trust and the awesome responsibility of helping you under such extreme circumstances. I will always be grateful to you. I say farewell to you with the same heavy heart I felt when we first met.
I also say thank you and goodbye to the wonderful people who have attended my tours, classes and presentations over the years. Those were always a tremendous source of joy for me and I tried to make those occasions as interesting and informative as possible. I thoroughly enjoyed the many tours I guided in Magnolia Cemetery and the Church Street Graveyard. I am grateful to all of you who attended the annual public tour series of Magnolia Cemetery each November, as well as the year-round group tours with groups as varied as photography clubs, high school history and art classes, and the wonderful Azalea Trail candidates from high schools all over our area.
My thanks go out to the dozens of clubs and organizations that invited me to make off-site presentations to groups small enough to fit in someone’s living room, to those numbering in the hundreds. It was fun working with the six or seven film companies that came to Mobile, and fell in love with the beautiful artwork and historic structures in Magnolia Cemetery.
But I suppose the activity that brought both the greatest satisfaction as well as great joy was working with the large group of candidates for the Eagle Scout award. Over the years these young men performed hundreds of hours of specialized work in Magnolia Cemetery as they completed their leadership service projects for the highest award in Boy Scouts. As an Eagle Scout myself, it brought me tremendous joy to watch these young men complete and receive their award. I’m just sorry I’ll be gone when the first young women arrive to complete the requirements for the Eagle Scout award.
These tours, classes, projects and presentations provided a wonderful, happy respite from a job that is inherently sad and stressful. To all of you I say goodbye, and ask that you continue to take an interest in preserving our historic, old burial grounds.
Finally, I cannot end this letter without writing about the elephant in the room! I’m ending my professional career during one of the greatest disasters our country has experienced in a hundred years! The COVID-19 pandemic has brought such great sadness and heartbreak to so many families, and has brought huge changes to all our lives. I am so grateful for the admiration and praise being given to our first responders and those working on the front lines of this crisis. I hope those of us who believe in the power of prayer are praying for these heroes.
My son and only child is a physician currently working in a COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. My daughter-in-law is a health care worker, as are a large number of my nieces, nephews and friends. Please pray for them! And, when you pray, say a little prayer for those who work in the death care profession. These “last responders” see the aftermath of this terrible illness every day. These men and women can neither stop working, nor work from home. Their work goes on, not just despite the epidemic, but also because of the epidemic. The work they do in helping families say their last goodbyes is even more important when those families have not been able to be with their loved ones at the time of death in hospitals and nursing homes. Every day they face the very difficult and delicate task of arranging meaningful funeral and burial services while being required to enforce group limits, social distancing and mask requirements.
Please pray for our first responders, our front-line workers AND our last responders. They are all working in their own fields and in their own ways to help us get through this very difficult, very sad time. But we will get through it together!
Farewell, thank you, and may God bless you and keep you healthy!
F. “Tiger” Marston
Municipal Cemeteries Manager
City of Mobile
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