After months-long search for a late veteran's family, her niece arrives just in time for the funeral
By CLAIRE BALLOR | The Dallas Morning News | Published: May 17, 2018
The quiet and private life of Margaret Rosa King became a public affair after she collapsed and died from heart complications in a University of North Texas parking lot.
The mysterious 67-year-old janitor, an Air Force veteran, left behind few clues about her past when she died in September.
Her funeral finally took place Wednesday after a months-long search for someone to claim her remains.
What information King left behind was little help. All her boss knew was that she was a veteran who took classes at the university by day and mopped the school's floors by night.
"The emergency contacts listed on her job application were just three different variations of her name," said David Barkenhagen, who had supervised King since June 2016. "She was a very private person."
King shared few personal details with those in her life, Barkenhagen said. She loved talking about God, which she promised to keep to a minimum while on the job, so she didn't get distracted. And she collected degrees like Girl Scout badges. But she never talked about family.
For months, UNT police dug through records to try to find a blood relative, but every lead came up dry. So, Barkenhagen was named next of kin and he planned King's funeral at Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery. She'd have a military honors funeral, and members of the Patriot Guard Riders would escort her remains.
He hoped someone who knew her, maybe even family, would show up.
Little to go on
Barkenhagen and police discovered only the most basic of details about King's life.
She was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1950 and graduated from Washington Irving High School. She served in the Air Force from 1971 to 1974 before going to work for the Department of Defense in Virginia where she stayed until 1997 when she began working at Lockheed Martin. She retired in 2003.
A neighbor who lived next door to King's Haltom City two-story brick home for 24 years said she didn't even know anything about the woman. The only glimpse into King's life that her home now offers are three license plates in the first-floor windows that say "THE EYE," but their meaning is just as mysterious as the woman who put them there.
Throughout her life, King received six degrees. She completed an associate's degree in business from Tidewater Community College in Virginia, a master's degree in gerontology from Norfolk State University in Virginia, a bachelor's degree in business from Saint Leo University in Florida, an associate's degree in accounting and information technology from Tarrant County Community College, a master's degree in information science from UNT and a master's degree in computer education from UNT.
The associate's degree she was working on at the time of her death would have been her seventh.
"She said she just loved to learn. She wrote that down as a hobby on her job application," Barkenhagen said.
Not alone anymore
Days before King's funeral on Wednesday, UNT put out one last call to media outlets and shared the only photo of King they could find, her work photo, in hopes that her story would be shared and a family member would surface. But no family came forward. So Berkenhagen wrote his speech, put on a black suit and prepared to eulogize a woman he hardly knew.
At the cemetery, the parking lot filled up quickly.
"I think all of these people are here for her," Berkenhagen said. "I wasn't expecting so many people to be here!"
Dozens of people, most of whom never knew King, crowded a pavilion where her ashes were placed in an engraved wooden box. Some were veterans who heard King's story and wanted to show respect. Some were UNT staff members. Others were citizens who didn't want King to be buried alone. Most of them only knew King's name and her military service, and that was all they needed to know.
After a three-volley rifle salute, Barkenhagen was receiving King's folded flag when a teary-eyed woman in a black dress tapped him on the shoulder.
"I'm Margaret's niece," she whispered.
A day earlier, Cherrie Robinson came across a story on Facebook and recognized the woman in the picture as an aunt whom her mother hadn't spoken to in decades. She called her mother and immediately booked a flight from her home in Atlanta to Dallas.
"We've been looking for her for years," Robinson said through tears. "To come across this story just in time to make it here for the services is just amazing."
She said she and her mother, King's half-sister, were not very close with King and lost touch with her decades earlier. Her mother booked the first flight she could get from her home in California, she said, but her flight landed as the funeral was starting and she couldn't make it in time.
The two had tried to find King, who had always been very private and consumed by her studies, but Robinson said she's just glad they found her in time for her to be there to say goodbye.
"I never wanted to find her in death," she said, "but I'm glad at least I can see how many people care."
Barkenhagen handed the folded flag and the three bullet casings from the salute to Robinson. His job was done.
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