What Works for Gwen Mooney?
Like the ducks serenely swimming in the lakes outside her office window at Cave Hill Cemetery, Gwen Mooney moves calmly on the surface of her days, but underneath she is briskly paddling.
Paddling, because there is a lot to oversee as president and CEO of the historic, 170-year-old cemetery. Considering she has only been in that position for three-and-a-half years, Gwen has managed to accomplish quite a lot.
But first, how did she get here?
“When I was in high school, five family members and two friends died in a space of four years. I thought I could really make a difference as a female in the industry working with widows and mothers who have lost loved ones,” she says.
She made good on that intention.
Gwen came to Louisville from Cincinnati where she was president of Gwen Mooney Funeral Homes and an officer of Spring Grove Cemetery. She graduated from the Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science — she was one of three females in her class — and has been working in the cemetery and funeral home business for the past 26 years as a licensed funeral director and embalmer in both Ohio and Kentucky.
She oversees the Cave Hill Cemetery Company, Cave Hill Investment Company, and the Cave Hill Heritage Foundation, which makes sure that the cemetery never falls into disrepair and sees to the restoration and replacement of statues.
The cemetery’s administrative office located near the main lake, home to those furiously paddling ducks, needed some refreshing. Gwen had the limestone exterior cleaned and brought back to its original gray and tan color, and large, overgrown bushes were removed, opening up views from inside the building.
“The reception area and office looked like an old newsroom,” Gwen says of the building’s interior. “It was one big open room filled with desks. There was really no calm place for visitors to wait. Now, the added cubicles make for a quieter, more respectful environment.”
Gwen also discovered a room that was being used for storage. She had it cleaned out and turned into a conference room. “There was a beautiful stained glass window in that space that had fallen into disrepair, and I had that totally redone and restored. Now that room has become a place we can meet privately with family members.”
But she has made more than just physical changes in the 300-acre cemetery.
When she came to Cave Hill she brought with her Otis, a grief therapy service dog. When Otis passed away, Beau, a Fox Red Labrador, came to stay and goes with Gwen everywhere. “During family conferences, he is especially calming and comforting to children who have lost a parent or sibling.”
For daily decisions, her go-to resource is Cave Hill’s book of rules and regulations that were formulated in 1848. “I have to make sure of the right of burial and often have to research the original deeds to make sure that someone is entitled to be buried in a family plot. A lot of my time is spent doing that.”
She is delighted that she made the move from Cincinnati to Louisville.
“Cave Hill is a beautiful cemetery. The people who work here — we have 75 employees — treat Cave Hill as if they have ownership. It is really a jewel for the city.”
What works for this woman who is entrusted with the care of Cave Hill?
I’m constantly driving around the cemetery’s 300 acres touching base with supervisors, assessing what’s happening, looking at projects, and attending events. Beau is always with me, and there is plenty of room in the Suburban for him.
I have two pairs of wellies. The more casual pair are green Hunters and are for tromping over muddy ground. The other pair are Tommy Hilfiger black patent leather rubber boots for a little more formal look. I also carry with me a big black umbrella with the Cave Hill swan logo. All my shoes have a wedge heel. I couldn’t wear high heels because I would just be sinking down into the ground.
I came to the curry scene 13 years ago. National Geographic followed me around for a week when I was at the funeral home in Cincinnati. They were filming a program on death and dying taboos comparing funeral traditions and rites in different cultures. That’s how I got onto curry. Everyday, the camera crew wanted to go to Indian and Thai restaurants.