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Baseball Hall of Famer Andre Dawson is now a mortician amid a pandemic

Andre Dawson, at a Capitol Hill press conference in July, 2018.

JOE GROMELSKI/STARS AND STRIPES

By DES BIELER | The Washington Post | Published: May 1, 2020

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Andre Dawson is seeing the effects of the coronavirus pandemic from a vantage point many sports fans would not expect of a Baseball Hall of Famer and former National League MVP.

The longtime star for the Montreal Expos and Chicago Cubs has spent the past dozen years as a mortician.

While running his own funeral parlor, Dawson has recently had to shorten services at his facility's chapel and limit them to no more than 10 people.

"It's very sad," he said Thursday to the Associated Press. "It's very sad. Because people mourn and grieve differently, and they're not getting through that process as they would under normal circumstances.

"You see a lot of hurt and pain."

Dawson, 65, has owned and operated the Paradise Memorial Funeral Home in his hometown of Miami, since 2008. Having retired as a baseball player in 1996, he joined a group of investors his brother organized a few years later to buy a different funeral home, then took an even bigger step into the business.

Dawson did not expect to actually run Paradise Memorial, but "that role sort of fell into my lap," he told AARP last year. With the same dedication to his craft that enabled a 21-year major league career, Dawson "threw myself into it, body and soul," despite the unlikely nature of his new line of work.

"Growing up I could have never envisioned this," he told the AP. "I was actually afraid of the dead when I was a kid.

"When it came to funeral homes and seeing someone in a casket, it would remind me of being young and going to see a real scary horror movie and not being able to sleep at night. That's where I was. But you grow and change with the times."

Since March, the coronavirus has brought wrenching changes to nearly every facet of American life. Extreme social distancing — which has brought baseball and other sports to a standstill — has helped slow the spread of covid-19, the illness resulting from the coronavirus, but its toll has nevertheless been devastating, with over a million cases and at least 62,560 deaths thus far in the United States.

There have been over 12,000 confirmed cases in Miami-Dade County, which has had the highest death count, 352, of any county in Florida (per the Miami Herald). Dawson's funeral home has handled six deaths from covid-19, and he has talked to his two dozen employees about plans for the possibility of that number greatly increasing.

"It's stressful because of the times and the uncertainty," Dawson said. "But this is what we signed up for. As challenging as it can be, we just pray and hope we're prepared for it."

Despite his fame and stature in his community from his baseball career, Dawson has immersed himself in the day-to-day operations of his funeral home, for which his wife of 42 years serves as office manager. He goes to homes to pick up the deceased, drives hearses, carries caskets and, as shown in a 2018 USA Today profile, even mops the floor at Paradise Memorial.

These days, Dawson is doing his work while wearing a mask. That has a limiting effect on how many people now recognize the tall man helping with their funeral arrangements, but he says his focus is on the needs of those around him.

"You never know where God is going to lead you," Dawson told USA Today, "but wherever it leads you, you have to be prepared. When this first fell into my lap, I prayed on it. I thought, 'How am I really going to pull this off without having the background, or knowing anything really about the industry?' But I wanted to make this as good a facility as I possibly could, and I'm proud of it.

"It's important to me because this is a product the community needs."

If Dawson did not know the value of hard work before he embarked on his major league career, he certainly learned it while rebounding from over a dozen knee surgeries that eventually sapped the athleticism of the player known as "The Hawk." During his early seasons with the Expos, who played on a notoriously unforgiving surface at Olympic Stadium, he was the epitome of a five-tool player and is just one of four players in MLB history with at least 400 home runs and 300 stolen bases, alongside Willie Mays, Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez.

Dawson's first season in the "friendly confines" of the Cubs' Wrigley Field resulted in a 1987 campaign that saw him lead the league with 49 homers and 137 RBI, good for NL MVP honors. He was elected for enshrinement in Cooperstown, N.Y., in 2010, the same year he was included in the Washington Nationals' Ring of Honor.

"Anytime someone extends the gratitude to pay homage to your career, it's very gratifying," Dawson said at the time of a ceremony by the team that became the Nats after the franchise moved in 2005 from Montreal to Washington. "It doesn't necessarily mean that I had to play here. I understand the history and the connection. I'm most grateful."

Of his new career, he told AARP last year, "There are no cheering crowds for me now, just people bearing the heaviest weight anyone can bear. My job now is just to be there for them and to help them get through."
 

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