“He was trying to do the job right – right to the bitter end.” Mayor Sam Felton
An article was published in the June 18, 2009 edition of The Pocahontas Times titled, “Caretakers go above and beyond to respect fallen vets.”
One of those caretakers was Frank Gravely.
The article states that “Gravely didn’t serve in the military, but he holds special respect for those who did.”
It was that respect that led Gravely to identify the final resting place of every veteran in Mountain View Cemetery and to place a flag on more than 550 graves each Memorial Day.
“They all worked hard for the country and some of them had to fight and die, and they deserve to be remembered,” the article quotes Gravely as saying.
And now, it is time for us to remember Gravely, because he, too, deserves it.
Gravely passed away Wednesday, January 13, shortly after making one last trip through Mountain View Cemetery.
Former Marlinton Mayor Dennis Driscoll said more than one man had tears in their eyes at the news of Gravely’s death.
“He was very unassuming,” Driscoll said of Gravely.
Gravely quietly went about his work, never drawing attention to himself, and therefore few people know the significance of who and what the community lost on Wednesday.
“This is going to be a blow to the town,” former mayor Joe Smith said. “The next go-to person is Kenneth [Faulknier], and he will tell you that he knows the new portion of the cemetery, but he doesn’t know the old.”
Gravely knew every grave – marked and unmarked.
“To have been a non-veteran, he was very dedicated to the veterans,” Smith said.
Gravely could point to a concave area and tell you the name of the soldier who is buried there – though there is no headstone nor footstone.
“This vet thing,” Faulknier began. “He was so savvy. Why didn’t we take a recorder and follow him as he put out the flags? It took three days to put them down. Frank would say, ‘let’s stop here a little bit, and he always had something to say – always good. He’d say, ‘do you know there’s two Merchant Marines in this cemetery? Only about six women, too.”’
Hindsight was visible Friday as Driscoll, Smith, Faulknier and Mayor Sam Felton reminisced about their friend and co-worker.
Felton said as recent as Tuesday night, there had been a nudge to get things in order from Jim Smith at VanReenen Funeral Home.
“Jim said, ‘I don’t know what you guys are going to do when Frank’s gone,”’ Felton said.
Since 1985, Mountain View Cemetery had been Gravely’s home away from home.
“Frank worked for the town for years,” Smith said. “When he reAnd he cared for it as one would care for family. If he came across a name that “didn’t ring a bell,” he would come to The Pocahontas Times office to see if the archives would offer up any information.
All three mayors worked with Gravely, and when a family needed a burial plot, they called Gravely or went to his house.
“He took care of it,” Smith said. “He’d come right back and say, ‘I found you a spot.’ What Frank did in a few minutes will take about six people now to get it done.”
Gravely was called to find a burial plot Wednesday morning, and, as in the past, he heeded the call.
Faulknier went to Mountain View after hearing the sad news about his friend, and there he found one set of tire tracks.
“There was no doubt in my mind that he took one more trip,” Faulknier said, “one last grave.”
All agreed that Gravely always had a funny story or a good joke to tell, but Felton said when he was in the presence of a grieving family, and especially in the presence of a veteran’s family, his demeanor totally changed. He was somber and respectful, head bowed, hat in hand.
Gravely would have had a good laugh Friday if he had heard Felton say, “There is an old saying that a friend will help you move. A good friend will help you move a body. But Frank knew where all the bodies are buried.”
Indeed, Gravely did know where the “bodies are buried.” He knew each of them by name, knew a lot of their life’s stories, and he maintained Mountain View Cemetery as if it were a fine estate.
From 1985 to 2001, Gravely worked as caretaker at Mountain View as a paid employee of the town of Marlinton.
From his retirement in 2001 until last Wednesday, Gravely did what he loved to do – tend to the graves of generations and generations of the county’s citizens and veterans.
It was a service performed out of love and respect.
“What a lot of people don’t realize,” Smith said, “is that Frank wouldn’t take any money from the town. After he retired, everything he did was free gratis. Everything he did, he did as a volunteer.”
Looking back on the events of Wednesday morning, Felton said Gravely passed on an important recommendation.
“That new guy up there at the cemetery,” Gravely said to Felton, “I think he’s going to do all right.”
In the coming years, whoever is “up there at the cemetery” will have a hard act to follow.
“To say we’ll miss him is an understatement,” Felton said. “He was a shining example. He was not well-known, but he provided a service to folks whose paths he may never have crossed. Frank is one of those people that we don’t realize their worth until they’re gone.”
Jaynell Graham may be contacted at email@example.com