The following is an e-mail sent to FAMSA, posted with permission.
Dear Madam/ Sir,
Following is a copy of a letter I have tried to send to the Georgia Ethics Board. Please read it and let me know if there is anything that I can do to resolve this situation.
Sharon M. Smith
Date: Fri, 26 Jun 1998 07:26:57 +0000
From: Sharon Marie Smith
Subject: Pine Ridge Memorial Park
I am not sure if you are the correct person to contact about my situation but I hope you can help.
My father died on February 1, 1998. On February 2, 1998 my mother and I purchased a marker for his grave at Pine Ridge Memorial Park. We selected a burial site based on the plans of the cemetery to build a fountain with benches near my father's grave. My father was a veteran of the Air Force and Navy. He was career military. Unfortunately, we did as many people do and did not make burial plans until my father died.
Upon arriving at Pine Ridge, the Manager —Tom— took us into his office to help us make decisions. We asked about the Veteran's Marker. We were told that they take a very long time to arrive at the cemetery (7 months at the minimum) [the VA reports 90 days] and that we would have to pay extra to have it installed at the cemetery and that the cemetery would not maintain a veteran's marker. Tom told us that if we bought a marker from them that my father's grave would not go unmarked and that they would place a temporary marker on his grave until the one we selected arrived. He told us he understood how we felt because he had lost his three-year-old son earlier the previous year and he would not have wanted his son's grave to go unmarked for a second. My mother told Tom that she could not pay the entire amount all at once. He told her that he would arrange for monthly payments and that it would not be a problem, he said that this way we could get the marker for the grave, have it installed, and make payments.
We selected and ordered a Pine Ridge Marker. The cost was over $4,000 for the internment and Marker. Several days after my father died I visited the grave and it was not yet marked. I decided to give it a little more time. During the subsequent two months I visited and still no marker (temporary or otherwise). I finally went to the office and asked about the marker. Here I spoke to Jack Stevenson. Mr. Stevenson told us that we had to order a marker in order to get a temporary marker. I told he we had ordered one and that it had been two months. I asked how long it took to get a temporary marker. I found out they have them in stock so there was absolutely no reason for my father's grave to go unmarked. The temporary marker was installed that day.
On Easter Sunday I visited my father's grave. Mr. Stevenson parked his car next to mine and, as I walked back to my car he approached me and asked me to fill out a Survey concerning the Cemetery. This seemed disrespectful to me and my family that our private moments would be invaded by a Cemetery Survey.
About a month later after visiting the grave I went to the office to find out about the Permanent Marker. Mr. Stevenson pulled the file and told me that they had a policy of not ordering markers until the total amount was at least half paid. I told him that this was not what Tom told us when we were sold the marker. Mr. Stevenson said that Tom no longer worked for them and that the situation we were in was not new and that Tom had put other families through the same thing. Fortunately, my mother had made some large payments in addition to the monthly payments and THE MARKER WAS HALF PAID FOR! The bottom line is that they were not keeping up with when to order the marker even by their standards — not the ones Tom told us about. Mr. Stevenson ordered the Marker. He told me it would arrive within forty-five days (By mid June, the marker would have now been on order approx. 5 months). Again I waited. On June 20, I called Pine Ridge and spoke to Dave Murray. He was very helpful. He told me that Mr. Stevenson no longer worked with families and that he would be glad to help me. I reviewed the story with him. He said he would look up the information on my dad's marker and call me back.
Dave Murray called back on Saturday afternoon and asked me if anyone had called me about the Marker. I said no. It seems that the Rosary Design my mother chosen as a border was not available on the size marker we had purchased and that call came approx. at the end of May ( I wonder if they were planning to call and ask us?). I asked him what should we do now because at this point I am thinking that we could have gotten the VA Marker for very little money out of pocket. The balance on the Marker we ordered was down to $1,400. I asked Mr. Murray about the Fountain near the grave site, and he told me no such plans were in the works. He then told me he would call the Marker company back, authorize the next larger size at no cost to my family because we had already been through so much. The Marker arrived on June 24. I was called to come to the Cemetery and approve the spelling, etc. before it was installed on my father's grave. The marker was very nice. Then Mr. Murray asked me how I wanted to pay the balance of $1,400. I told him my mother was making monthly payments and that she was two months ahead on those payments. He told me that they could not install the marker until it was completely paid for. I told him that at no time during all of my conversations with anyone at the Cemetery did anyone ever mention that I would have to have this completely paid for before the marker was installed. In fact, Tom told us the best way to proceed was to make monthly payments so the grave would not have to go unmarked and so we could have a permanent Marker long before the VA would ever send one. Then Mr. Murray called in Mr. Murphey and Mr. Murphey proceeded to explain that all Markers must be completely paid for before the marker was installed. (My mother was on a two year installment plan). I again repeated my story. He then told me that the administrative assistant Barbara was the only person who could make this decision and that I would have to contact her the next day, June 25. Mr Murphey asked if I could write a letter so they would have documentation if this request was denied by Barbara and they had to go to the "Board." Then they wanted me to sign off on the Marker approval. I would not. I told them I would not sign anything else until this matter was resolved. I also told Mr. Murray and Mr. Murphey that although they were not involved in the original plans and decision making that Tom represented this Memorial Park and that as consumers we had no choice but to take him at his word and we found out that his was not very good. I told them that we were involved in a relationship with them for a long time because my father was buried here and my family was close by and that we would be visiting frequently. It is disturbing and sad that the relationship seems to be destined to continue along the same vein.
I told Mr. Murphey that I would write a letter for him detailing the events that have transpired since February 2, 1998. I asked Mr. Murray about the fact that Tom had told us how we felt because his son had died earlier the previous year, and Dave Murray told me that this too was a lie.
Please help me to resolve this situation in any way you can. I feel that what Pine Ridge Memorial Park has done to my family and undoubtedly others is unethical, unfair, and even cruel considering the circumstances in which people seek them out for assistance with the death of a loved one.
Sharon M. Smith
4495 Brown Deer Lane
Acworth, Georgia 30101
Note: I spoke with Barbara the morning of June 25, 1998. I again told her this story. She told me that the account balance was $1,200 (the day before it was $1,400) but that they would install the marker because of all that had occurred. She also told me that she was obligated to tell me that this is not their usual practice and that if my mother "got behind" in her payments that they would remove the marker.
June 28, 1998: No Marker installed yet.
July 2, 1998: The temporary Marker was turned facing the other direction when I went to the graveside today. I went to the office. The two ladies (one of whom is Barbara) told me that the maintenance man was probably installing the permanent marker and got called away so he put the temporary back on backwards. I asked them to call me today before 2:30 or after 6:00 and let me know why this occurred.