One of our finest dies

Worcester, Massachusetts, funeral director Peter Stefan, age 85 died this week.  Stefan made a name for himself, not as a businessman, but as a man and funeral director, of compassion.  Even in a profession which exudes compassion among its workers, Stefan stood out to his peers.

Stephen Teasdale, the Executive Director of Worcester’s Main South Community Development Corporation had this to say about Stefan, “Money is not everything.  At the end of the day, that’s going to be Peter’s legacy. . . (that) he cared about people.

You can learn more about Peter Stefan in this 2-minute news video and article from Boston’s TV 25 News.

I first heard of Stefan in 2013 when he accepted the remains of Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev when nobody else would.  Stefan, whose funeral home was picketed by protesters at the time explained it this way, “I can’t treat him as a terrorist.  I can’t control the circumstances around a death or what a person did or what they died from.  I can’t pick and choose.”  Stefan even received death threats because of this compassion according to the article.

And, what many of us also didn’t know was that at the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, when funeral directors and others did not know what was causing the high number of deaths in a group of people who shared similar characteristics, Stefan accepted those bodies when other funeral homes refused.  Patricia Price of the AIDS Project Worcester made this statement in the linked article/news story, “When people were dying, and they were dying at a high rate at that time, they knew who they could call on, and they all went to Peter.” 

From another article I read this, “He always spoke of the need to provide dignity in death to the forgotten and unwanted.  He always accepted the remains of people who had no money to pay for his services.”  Responding to that quote, Stefan answered the reporter in 2017, “I’ve never measured respect in terms of dollars and cents.”

Funeral Director Daily take:  While I think the quote may be a little overdone and used by too many in the death care profession, I do think of British 19th century Prime Minister William Gladstone who wrote:  “Show me the manner in which a nation cares for its dead and I will measure with mathematical exactness the tender sympathies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land, and their loyalty to high ideals.

Growing up that quote was on the lobby wall at our funeral home.  If anyone epitomized it. . . it was funeral director Peter Stefan.  He should be an inspiration to all of us.  May he rest in peace.

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