Gene Catrett, 86, helped others get through death of loved ones

Gene Catrett had all the attributes one could ask of a funeral director. He was sensitive, polite, patient and always composed.

“Dad would walk into a room and calm seemed to follow him,” said his daughter, LaJean Turner of Roswell.

For 30 years he attended the bereaved at H.M. Patterson Funeral Homes in Atlanta, having provided similar services previously in Columbus and South Georgia.

“With his easygoing South Georgia manner, he would put distressed families immediately at ease,” said Hugh Allen of Marietta, an H.M. Patterson funeral director. “He was the kind of person the rest of us in the profession aspire to be.”

In 1978 Haskell Scott was a student in mortuary science, and Mr. Catrett was an instructor. “I have never known a man more sensitive to the needs of grieving people than Gene Catrett. He accepted funeral service as a ministry, not as a business," Scott said.

Eugene Morroll Catrett, 86, died of heart failure Wednesday at his Elmcroft Assisted Living residence in Roswell. A funeral is scheduled for 2 p.m. Monday at H.M. Patterson & Son Arlington Chapel, with interment to follow at Arlington Memorial Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the First Baptist Church of Roswell, 710 Mimosa Blvd., Roswell, GA 30075.

In 2003 he and his wife, Leona (now deceased), moved into Elmcroft Assisted Living, and he soon became an ambassador of goodwill, greeting newcomers and familiarizing them with the facility’s routines. “It was a position he loved,” said Michelle Ettenger of Johns Creek, the community relations director at the facility.

“Those of us on the staff called him Papa,” she said. “He was so warm and friendly with everyone.”

It was his custom, his daughter said, to come to lunch at the dinning hall and kiss each lady there on the cheek on his way to his table.

“He had a preference for the ladies,” Ms. Ettenger said. “He didn’t shake hands with the men.”

The Rev. Jerry Tyler, music minister at the First Baptist Church of Roswell, said he visited Mr. Catrett at Elmcroft and the two of them would sing together, harmonizing on familiar tunes.

“I’d sing the melody and Gene with his high tenor voice would sing in the stratosphere above me.”

Music was a vital component of Mr. Catrett’s makeup. He sang in church choirs and gospel quartets throughout his adult life.

“Dad knew the words to most of the hymns in the Baptist hymnal,” his daughter said. “That was a blessing that enabled him to sing during church services even after his eyesight began to fail.”

His handyman skills were wide-ranging. His daughter said he could fix any make of lawn mower motor and enjoyed tinkering with all kinds of electronic gear. “Dad knew autos from the time he operated a car dealership in Columbus and could tell from the sound of an engine if something was wrong under the hood,” she said.

“His ear for engines was as keen as it was for music,” she said.

Also surviving is a grandson, David Turner of Greenville, S.C.