PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Forrest Smith sat on a bench in front of the headstone etched with the name of his deceased wife, Anna Spencer Smith. who died Sept. 23, 2013 after a brave battle against Alzheimer’s.
Despite the somber surroundings in Olive Branch Cemetery, Smith seemed pleased.
“They have done pretty much what they said they were going to do,” he said, referring to the City of Portsmouth.
For the first time in a while, he seemed pleased to be sitting in the cemetery.
Smith had called 10 On Your Side to the cemetery in August when the grass was long. Large clumps of grass could be found on the stone grave markers, and flowers were cut up and left between the rows of graves.
“Our interview showed on WAVY-TV, and since that time, I’ve got to give the city credit, they are doing much better.”
10 On Your Side flew Drone 10 high above to show the change Portsmouth has dedicated itself to. There are rows and rows and rows of manicured grounds with no tall grass, no clumps of grass, no grass left behind on grave stones. A few graveside services were underway. It was a solemn and proud place to be.
“People would call us and thank me for bringing the issues to the attention of the community. They were thanking me and [WAVY-TV] for making a difference… They could see the difference… It meant something,” Smith said.
On Sept. 16, 10 On Your Side questioned the city why the graveyard grounds were so unkept, especially with sensitive funeral services going on.
Mark Palamarchuck. who is in charge of cemetery maintenance, said he understood where Smith was coming from.
“I do. I definitely do.”
Palamarchuck is director of the Portsmouth Parks, Recreation and Tourism which also oversees the Portsmouth public cemeteries, including Olive Branch.
He explained that in September, COVID-19 caused staffing issues and shut down some work crews.
“Of course, this year with COVID-19, we are having problems getting staffing, and we had to shut down the entire division at one point because of positive tests.”
Smith has emails to prove that his complaints to City Council for two years went unanswered — and they were sent two years before COVID-19 arrived on scene.
“We are making a pledge to do better out there because we know it is important to people and it is important to us as well,” Palamarchuck also told us.
Pledge fulfilled: More work crews were on scene almost immediately after that pledge made to us.
We are told a new seven-day work schedule is better followed; and additional temporary workers are filling in the schedule.
Smith seems pleased with the change in scenery at Olive Branch.
“As you look around, this is what we asked for, and this is what we are getting thanks to 10 On Your Side,” he said. “I really hope and pray it [the well-maintained grounds] carry on into next year, but I guess if it doesn’t, then I know who to call.”