The funeral director who offered to bury Baby Doe for free has a message for you

Peter Stefan, funeral director and owner of Graham, Putnam and Mahoney Funeral Parlors in Worcester, pictured in May 2013.
Peter Stefan, funeral director and owner of Graham, Putnam and Mahoney Funeral Parlors in Worcester, pictured in May 2013. –Chris Christo/AP

After seeing pictures of Baby Doe, the toddler whose body was found on a Massachusetts beach last month, funeral director Peter Stefan offered to handle her funeral arrangements for free. That’s why he thinks everyone else who is haunted by the mystery of the abandoned, nameless toddler should honor her—not by donating money, but by performing a charitable act in her name.

“Everyone talks about wanting to set up a fund, but no one knows who she is or where she came from, so you can’t know where the money will go,’’ Stefan said. “And we all know money from funds can be misused. That’s why, instead, everyone should go do something charitable in the name of Baby Doe.’’

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Stefan, who owns Graham, Putnam & Mahoney Funeral Parlors in Worcester, suggests people who are struggling to turn their idea of “something’’ into an action go buy a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk for a homeless person. Or they can donate money to the elderly to help them afford their medications or electricity bills. The needy live all around us, Stefan said. There are infinite ways that people who mourn the girl with the big brown eyes and chubby cheeks can give back to those who are still living, and struggling, around them.

Stefan knows this firsthand. He’s made his career as a champion for the needy, even in their deaths. He said social workers know to refer poor clients to him because he’ll handle their funeral arrangements for a discounted price — or even for free.

Stefan drew national attention—and much criticism—in 2013 when he handled the funeral arrangements for Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev. He was surprised that people reacted so strongly to his willingness to arrange the funeral.

“We bury the dead in this country,’’ he said. “That’s what we do. And this offer for the baby has nothing to do with the bomber, but I know I’ll be linked to that forever.’’

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That doesn’t bother him, though. And he said he didn’t offer to handle Baby Doe’s funeral as a way to make amends for burying Tsarnaev, because he doesn’t think what he did was wrong.

“You can’t separate the sins from the sinners,’’ he said. “I don’t turn anyone away. I never have.’’

As a funeral director, Stefan sees tragedy every day. To counter the darkness, he believes people should approach each day “like it’s Christmas,’’ and spread joy and charity by doing one nice act.

“We can’t do all the things we’d like to do,’’ he said. “But we do whatever we can.’’

And, for Stefan, that means doing his best for everyone — no matter who they were when they were alive.

Related: Notorious unsolved crimes in Massachusetts

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