When Bill Tubbs visited rural cemeteries in Walker, Winston and Marion
counties where his ancestors are buried, he was
disturbed by what he saw.
"I was ashamed of them," he said. That was more than
20 years ago, when the abandoned cemeteries needed a
caretaker, somebody who would honor the memory of those
buried there in the 1800s. Tubbs decided to become that
He tends a half dozen cemeteries where personal ties
still reach out to him. "I've got one or two people
buried in every one of them," said the 72-year-old
resident of the Curry community in northern Walker
County, who has had a lifelong interest in genealogy.
On a rainy day last week, Tubbs strolled through Camp
Ground Cemetery, also known as Camp Meeting Cemetery,
sizing up what needed to be done in a wooded knoll
overlooking Musgrove Country Club, a few miles north of
He scraped dead leaves away from a few markers and
pondered when the ground would be dry enough for him to
return with his riding mower. Pausing at one upright
marker, he tugged away vines obscuring almost everything
except a Masonic emblem carved into the face of the
"Ouch, that feels like briars," he said, drawing back
his ungloved hand.
It's hard work. Some graveyards are difficult to
reach. Even a pickup truck can get stuck in the mud.
As good as possible:
But Tubbs, aided by his wife Sue and a few helpers,
see that the cemeteries look as good as possible. They
visit each at least three times a year. They cut up
fallen trees with a chain saw. They upright knocked over
tombstones - likely the work of vandals. Leaves are
raked away from markers and weeds are mowed.
In some cemeteries the pine trees outnumber the
graves, with young trees growing up between markers.
Several of the cemeteries have more unmarked graves
than those with nicely carved tombstones. Here and there
a simple piece of sandstone pokes up through the leaves
to indicate a grave. Markers were a luxury for families
of modest means, Tubbs said. And if relatives couldn't
read or write, a fancy tombstone was not a priority.
Over time, Tubbs' work has come to the attention of
people with ancestors in the little cemeteries. Some
have offered money to help cover his costs or to show
appreciation. He turns down their money, suggesting
instead they spend it on a simple marker.
A few years ago he found a tombstone company that
creates small marble or granite markers. A 6-by-12 inch
stone is big enough for three or four lines of 3/4-inch
lettering. A smaller one goes on an infant's grave.
Tubbs lets his helpers do the harder work of bending
over and picking up. Back problems limit him to a riding
But Tubbs is choosy about whom he lets help. They
have to share his belief that a well-kept cemetery
honors the memory of those buried there.
His work offers fulfillment and a place to enjoy
peace and quiet. "I feel close to my Lord there. I don't
have to explain it," he said. "I'm there because I want
to be there."
Tubbs is going to keep up the work as long as he can
ride a mower.
"This is a project you can take on, and I promise
you, nobody will try to take it away from you," he said.