GRANDVIEW When Tim Morris received a call from a head-hunter a few years ago for a sales position with Lower Valley Memorial Gardens, his first thought was: Uh, no.
He didn’t know why. Maybe cemeteries spooked him as a child.
But Morris gave the proposition a second thought and said yes.
That was a serendipitous decision. With the experience he gained at Lower Valley over the past few years, he launched a business a year ago that offers him a living and an opportunity to be philanthropic in a major way.
Many folks around these parts know Morris as “Cemetery Tim.”
He had such presence at Lower Valley, that the public started calling him that. He eventually became manager of the cemetery.
Morris turned that nickname into a company name and combined it with his experiences to start a business that has gone national.
He sells his own brand of headstone, including stand-ups, across the U.S.
Morris struck out on his own because he wanted to serve more people.
He set up a website at the same time he opened and now has 480,000 followers.
“In just one year; I wouldn’t have that,” he said.
On Friday, Morris did a Facebook live video. He carried on like a game show host talking to his followers as they tuned in from all over the country during those 10 minutes.
“Hello Louisiana,” Hello Arkansas,” and “Hello Alabama,” he said as they signed in.
Far from the man in the stoic one-on-one discussions with grieving families, he laughs and plays with his followers.
Some have even said he “makes dying fun.”
Morris knows he doesn’t, but he understands what they mean; he takes a little off the edge they are experiencing.
Some of those followers are not immediate sales, but they lead to sales.
Morris noted people have to deal with death at some time — And he’s there if they need his help.
“I don’t call anybody; they call me,” he said. “I’m all word of mouth and my website.
“A death in the family is not the right time for me to call doing business.”
Morris, who was born in Yakima and raised in Seattle, dreamed of being an FBI agent, and he can’t remember when that dream was laid aside.
Instead, he has done all kinds of work, including general contractor, painting contractor, real estate agent and restaurant owner.
For two years, he had a catering service in Houston, Texas, that delivered breakfast at 7 a.m. and lunch at 11 a.m. to 500-1,000 people at a worksite.
“We started putting it together at 1 in the morning,” he said.
Of all the things Morris did, he seemed to like and be best at sales.
That’s why he answered the call to Lower Valley.
Now, he’s on his own, selling headstones only.
But these aren’t just any headstones; these are headstones of his design.
The production is farmed out to a company with which he struck up a partnership of sorts. Morris does all of his design work on his computer at 203 E. Second St.
First he helps a client decide what type of stone and artistry he or she would like.
“I ask what their deceased loved one was like, what the loved one liked or did most,” he said. “Then I draw up the design.”
If the client approves, Morris orders it shipped to the cemetery where it will be set. If the client does not approve, Morris will work on it again to get it right.
“I’m in this to help families. My art and my prices are top notch,” he said.
While the design work happens on the computer and long-distance transactions involve Internet communications, the people work, which is delicate, is handled person-to-person, as much as possible.
“These people are going through a tough time; I have to be respectful of that,” Morris said. “Even if they are doing it a year later, they are still struggling. It never ends. That’s why I want the monument to their loved one to remind them of the good times. I spend a lot of time with grieving families in cemeteries.”
Along with FBI agent, Morris grew up wanting to be one who gives to his community. With the success he’s had as “Cemetery Tim,” he as given 107 headstones to complete strangers who couldn’t afford one.
He did No. 108 Friday on that live video. Going through numerous submissions from his followers, he made the “tough decision” to select a woman from SeaTac. Follower Rebecca Estel made the submission.
One of Morris’ acts of charity ended up on the Dallas, Texas, CBS affiliate’s newscast.
The station sent a reporter and camera to the cemetery where the family of Hector Escobar was in crisis.
Someone or some people had vandalized Hector’s plot.
After Morris heard the story, he designed and ordered a headstone for that family. He also bought a plane ticket and flew down to deliver it personally.
Knowing the family was grieving, Morris delivered the stone and stepped aside.
He didn’t want to take a chance on crying because the family was stressed enough.
But then the family started thanking and hugging him.
The hugs did it; the tears started to fall.
Morris teared up again sharing that video clip.
“I found another side of me, when I came to Sunnyside,” he said.