CHARLESTON—When Warren Stuckey retires as diocesan director of cemeteries this month, it will be just shy of his 20th anniversary.
He said he doesn’t mind leaving before his milestone celebration because his family — including his wife, two children, and three grandchildren — already relocated to North Carolina and he’s ready to join them.
“It won’t be hard to pack up. All I kept here is one plate, one glass, one fork, one knife,” he said, breaking into a grin.
His friends know he has a lot of the jokester in him, but he takes his job of running the cemeteries and comforting those in need seriously.
Stuckey points out that he was the first lay person to be appointed director of cemeteries. Before, it was always a role served by a priest.
There were several qualities that drew the diocese’s attention. First, they desperately needed someone who could bring the cemeteries into the 21st century with an accurate way to keep track of everyone’s burial plots. Stuckey said his biggest challenge in all his 20 years was figuring out the sheaves of hand-written records describing where people were buried and who owned spaces, putting it all on a computer, and creating backup books that they still use today.
He also had a background in church ministry, including a master’s in religious education, and previously spent 25 years working in music and religious education.
“This is a ministry to the church just as my other jobs were,” he said.
In fact, he grew up in a church in Eastman, Ga., where his dad was a music minister, and started playing piano for church services and funerals when he was only 9. As an adult, he returned home to help care for his father when he got sick. Those two personal experiences gave him a deep understanding of how hard it is to lose a loved one.
“It’s the worst time in life,” he said. “If I can make it easier, then I’ve done my job. I try to make it as easy as possible for people.”
He has seen the gamut of emotions at the five cemeteries he covers — Holy Cross, St. Lawrence and St. Peter in Charleston, and St. Peter and St. Patrick in Columbia — from family drama, to laughter and stories, to despair.
Aside from funerals, Stuckey said most of the hours are spent in maintenance. He and Pam Paquette, administrative assistant at Holy Cross, help people with the smaller details, such as ordering and inscribing headstones, and comforting visitors.
Over the years, the cemetery director has made various improvements and additions. He built a new mausoleum and new office with heat and air, opened two new burial sections, and added three cremation gardens.
When he leaves, he’ll be placing the cemeteries in the hands of the new director, Karmin Meade.
He’s a little nervous about it, like handing his child to a new caregiver, but is anxious to start his next adventure, and get back to spoiling his grandchildren.
Stuckey said he isn’t sure what he’ll do with all of his free time. He enjoys golf and music though, and said his path will probably lead him back to a church where he can play the piano for services again.
Top photo, Miscellany/Deirdre C. Mays