An unusual and heart-wrenching case is evolving in Alabama, a case that makes us question the humanity of those in bureaucratic power. The case is about Patsy Davis who passed away in April 2009 at the age of 66 with her last wishes to be buried in the front-yard of the rural house where she had raised five children in her 48 years of blissfully married life.
Her devoted husband, Jim Davis, a former marine, complied with the last wishes of his wife. After the death of his wife, Davis applied to the county health department for the approval to bury his wife in the front-yard – the department ran necessary hydrological tests and approved his request. Davis then sought permission from the Stevenson city council, which said no. Davis dug the plot anyway and interred his deceased wife according to her last wishes. The city officials saw red and sued. A local judge happily ordered to dig up the body of Patsy, but Davis is moving for appeal.
Concerned over the unusual case Reuters rang up the city mayor Ricky Steele who said, “State law says the council has the right to say no and that’s what they did.”
The mayor stressed that the council was concerned that the city could eventually become responsible for the expenses involving maintaining Patsy Davis’ resting place, though it has no precedents or bindings. That is, the city has never chosen to enact a cemetery ordinance, and the city is bound only to maintain cemeteries and not private resting places. But, of course, the city council has the power to say no, and the local judge has the authority to order digging up the body of Patsy. It’s all about authorities, after all.
Davis too, has some authorities on his side. As Davis’ lawyer says, “Mr. Davis has a family burial plot, not a cemetery. State law allows for burying your relatives on your homestead … Even assuming it’s a cemetery, which it’s not, the city of Stevenson has never chosen to enact a cemetery ordinance.”
Sherry Bradley, the deputy director of the Alabama Department of Public Health, echoed the views of Davis’ lawyer. Bradley says that family burial plots are common in Alabama and that the Alabama Department of Public Health “has long held the position that a family burial plot on private property is not considered a cemetery unless the county or municipality has an ordinance.”
But Stevenson doesn’t have an ordinance, so what’s the big deal and why the concern? A clue might be received from the opinion of a neighbor, Angie Rich: “I feel for the guy, I really do” says he, “But I think he’s going to have a hard time if he tries to sell that house with a body in the front yard.”
So, things do fall into place. Anybody who had been eyeing the house to make a profit from its sale, or may be purchase it, after Davis passed away, he being 73 now, would have the cause to object. Patsy resting in her family yard reduces the salability of the house, so the city council says no; even though there is no cemetery ordinance, and the local judge says dig her body up, even though Alabama law says relatives can be buried on family burial plots.
While the case moves to appeal, Davis has erected a large sign on her property: “let Patsy rest in peace.” The former marine says, “This grave site is my piece of America …I don’t feel any different fighting for it than I felt about fighting for my country and I was willing to die for that.”