Read Part 1 here, read Part 2 here and read Part 3 here.

Sharon Blackburn, the family service counselor who authored the email in Part 1, answered a few questions in a preliminary phone interview which I neglected to record.

(ABOVE:  Garden of Memories, the firm Ms. Blackburn represents as a Family Service Counselor)

In fairness, since I am not a journalist, I didn’t know how to ask her permission to record her responses without scaring her off, so I chose instead to take notes.  Unfortunately, I’m not a fast notetaker, and the conversation was over quickly.

To recap, Sharon asserted these points:

1.  She did not acquire any kind of list to “blast-email,” instead choosing to send notes to those who’d invited others to contact them on the guestbook.
2.  Her boss gave her permission to do this. 
3.  She was sorry for any offense taken to her email.
4.  She did NOT have the approval of the family to send the email.
5.  She had not received any other negative response.
6.  Her purpose was NOT to sell pre-need, but to share the Simplicity Planner.

Now that we’ve published several parts to this story, I invited Ms. Blackburn to participate in a longer interview, recorded in a podcast, so that her full story could be shared.  She chose not to do so, opting instead to send this email:

Tim, thanks for the ‘opportunity’ to answer additional questions you might have, but I think I answered all of your questions – both fairly and honestly – when you called me at my place of work last week.

After reading Part 1 of your blog, I’m somewhat surprised, however, that you didn’t mention Robin Richter (if that’s really her name) – the woman so “aggravated” by my e-mail is, in fact, your Mother!

You misquoted me by stating that I said this e-mail had been sent to ‘many’ people. What I said was that I’d sent this same e-mail to several people (more than 2) and had received no negative comments in return. In fact, I told you that I’d received responses from a couple of people who simply wanted to verbalize their feelings about John’s death. Nothing was ever discussed about the Simplicity Planner, selling pre-need funeral services or anything remotely connected to my career.

As I told you when we spoke by phone, I am very, very sorry that your Mother was offended by my e-mail to her. Unfortunately, when we ‘internetters’ leave our e-mail ‘open’ for others to contact… we invite all types of e-mails in return. I realize your Mother wasn’t expecting to ‘open herself up’ for my e-mail any more than I was expecting to ‘open myself up’ for your phone call and subsequent e-mail. I guess we’ve both learned a valuable lesson from this experience.

You’re right, Tim. I absolutely meant no ill will toward your Mother when I sent her my e-mail offering her a complimentary Simplicity Planner. I was also not attempting to pre-sell her anything. What I was doing, however, was simply offering a free gift – complete with information on wills, social security benefits and other invaluable information. Everyone in my family as well as all of my friends have been given this Planner and yet… not one person (not even my parents) have bought a dime of anything from me! If my intent in giving this Planner was to sell pre-need funeral services, Tim… don’t you think my family would have been the first to buy?

I will close by simply saying how very sorry I am your Mother was on the receiving end of my e-mail and that she took such offense to same.


So, in interest of full disclosure, here is my response, freshly sent to Ms. Blackburn:


Thank you for your reasoned response to my request.  On first reading, I noted a tone of either anger or angst in your tone.  Upon second review, I understand that you may have missed parts of my website or misunderstood others.  I also realize that I might have been less than perfect in the way I have presented the story.

Let me correct those issues here:

1.  You did answer all my questions.  I merely wanted to give you the same opportunity (recorded on audio) I gave Robin when discussing this issue.  You have chosen to respond by email, parts of which I’d like to share with my audience. 

2.  Please read the initial post about this issue, the one which includes the email you sent out.  It is here: .  You will notice the line “My mother, Robin Richter, chose to log onto the Tampa Tribune’s website” in the second paragraph.  And yes, that is her real name. 

3.  I shall change the site to reflect “several” instead of “many.”  I will make sure that my readers understand that you have offered this correction and that I agree wth it.  In fact, you never told me how many people you sent this email too and I should have been more forthright with that info.

4.  Yes, you can assert that my mother ‘opened herself up’ to any kind of email and you would be right.  My site deals with how funeral homes market themselves.  I hope I do a good job of sharing wth funeral directors and staffers the effects of marketing efforts.  I hope I’m able to show them how consumers react when they’re marketed to in ways like this.  And while you assert that you weren’t trying to market, I assert that you still marketed, even if your intentions were innocent.  In my mind, funeral marketing is about changing your community’s perception of your firm.  For at least one person, you did that, regardless of your intention.

5.  I was not attempting to sabotage your career or cause havoc at your workplace.  Which is why I have not contacted your supervisors or sought reaction from Stewart Enterprises in New Orleans.  I also have not shared this story with other news sources or pushed to publish articles in any other media.  And while you might not want to continue this conversation, you are welcome to discontinue it at any time.  That is why I was pleasant to you on the phone and why I have tried to keep my tone even.  I had hoped you would notice.

6.  I appreciate that you consider yourself to be a different kind of pre-need counselor.  I have spent 10+ years in this industry and have seen many who are not.  And while I think you meant no harm by your email, I also think this is an important lesson for the 90% of the pre-need sales crowd who see dollar signs instead of people.

Thank you for being so generous and responding to my requests.  I apologize for causing you further concern.  And yes, my mother was offended.  I was shocked as well.  I think if you re-read your letter, you will see that it can be misconstrued as a sales pitch.  If I have offended you by my own writing, please understand that it is merely a side-effect of my limitations as a writer.  Please stay tuned to our site to read how I present your part of this.  I hope you’ll feel comfortable enough to continue to correct any errors I might make.