Cemetery Tim keeps memories alive in stone at the graveyard

The proprietor of Headstones by Cemetery Tim makes death look cool.

That’s what some of his clients have told him over the years.

But Tim Morris isn’t trying to look cool. He’s going for approachable.

His headstone company is based in Yakima but he recently opened a showroom in downtown Pasco.

His front door at 325 W. Lewis St. features a caricature of him leaning around a tombstone engraved with the words, “The Headstone Whisperer.” There’s a welcome mat with the same logo. It’s also branded on his shirt.

His Ram pickup is emblazoned with red lettering, touting his business’ offerings: lay-away options, service to all cemeteries, custom design work and his large social media presence.

“I can’t tell you how many people pull out their phone and start recording my truck on their phone,” he said.

Morris’ headstone-making business has been featured on several nationwide news outlets, including TMZ, BET and New York Daily News, because he’s designed extravagant grave markers for celebrities.

His goal when he started the business five years ago was to be approachable. He wasn’t interested in being a buttoned-up, serious cemetery guy.

“I feel blessed to be where I am right now. Through hard work and determination, things have gone my way,” he said.

Approachable goals

One way Morris tries to be approachable is in his pricing structure. Many businesses require half payment up front and half when the headstone is completed, he said.

He allows his customers to make monthly payments.

He got his start in the industry by working for three years as the manager of a Lower Valley cemetery before he went into business for himself.

“I wanted to work with families on my own,” he said.

He started in Toppenish but outgrew that space and opened a showroom and workshop in Yakima two years ago. His Pasco showroom opened four months ago.

He’s currently working on about 500 headstones. He employs a team of seven on a contractual basis. His wife, Alma Morris, co-owns the business. He calls her Mrs. Cemetery Tim.

Tim Morris stands at his showroom door at his business, Headstones by Cemetery Tim, which he opened four months ago at 325 W. Lewis St. in downtown Pasco. (Photo by Kristina Lord)

He planned to open in Pasco next year, but when he drove by the vacant building and saw the “for lease” sign, he checked it out. The former beauty salon came with chandelier light fixtures and didn’t need significant remodeling – it was perfect, he said. His mom also lives in the Tri-Cities.

Morris said he’s in the business of helping families remember their loved ones with style – a style of their choosing.

His headstones sometimes feature vibrant photos of the deceased. Families can choose from an array of designs, ala cart style.

There are 300 or so to scroll through at CemeteryTim.com. And if you can’t find what you’re looking for, Morris works with artists who can customize any design using laser etching and sandblasting techniques.

The Chavez and Cardenas family said Cemetery Tim came highly recommended.

Alexandria Chavez of Kennewick and her aunts, Idalia Cardenas and Maria Cardenas, both of Pasco, arranged fresh flowers on a recent Friday morning at the newly installed headstone for Virginia Cardenas, Chavez’s mom and her aunts’ sister, at Pasco’s City View Cemetery. She died Oct. 29, 2020, from cancer at age 61.

They gushed over her headstone, saying they were surprised how big it was.

“The bigger the better. The price was good. It’s gorgeous. It’s beautiful. Pictures don’t do it justice,” Chavez said.

Alexandria Chavez of Kennewick, from left, and her aunts, Maria Cardenas and Idalia Cardenas, both of Pasco, arrange fresh flowers at the newly installed headstone for Virginia Cardenas, Chavez’s mom and her aunts’ sister, at Pasco’s City View Cemetery. Headstones by Cemetery Tim designed the grave marker. (Photo by Kristina Lord)

Headstone maker for the stars

As he got back to work, his phone pinged with a message from a member of the hip hop group N.W.A. wanting to know how much his headstones cost.

Morris said it’s a difficult question to answer because every headstone is different. The engravings differ. The designs differ. The kinds of granite differ.

Prices can range from a few hundred dollars up to a few thousand.

Cemetery Tim offers prepayment plans for headstones. It’s important to plan ahead because it’s hard on families to make decisions “at the toughest time of their life,” after a death, he said.

“It’s something you’ve got to face. We are all born and we are guaranteed to also pass away,” he said.

The business has been getting a lot of attention from celebrities and their families.

The first request came from a daughter of Eazy-E, a California rapper from the hip hop group N.W.A., who died in 1995.

“I grew up listening to him,” Morris said. “It made the hair stand up on the back of my arm when she called.”

The late rapper needed a new tombstone at the Rose Hill Cemetery in Whittier, California. The replacement corrected his date of birth and was decidedly more modern with color photos honoring the “The Godfather of Gangsta Rap.”

It was unveiled on what would have been Eazy-E’s 55th birthday in 2019.

Morris’ other famous clients include Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes of the hip hop group TLC, rapper Nate Dogg and Tijuana singer Jimmy Gonzalez, among others. Snoop Dogg’s cousin called Morris to design a headstone for his mom. Morris told him that he’d do it under one condition: if he got a chance to meet his uncle, the famous rapper and actor.

Morris clearly enjoys telling this story, relaying details about how big Snoop’s house was and what it was like to meet the rap legend.

“I’m not in LA. but I work with a lot of L.A. families,” he said. “We can ship all over the country.”

Cemetery Tim got a celebrity endorsement from the late Tommy Debo Lister, a former professional wrestler turned actor who starred in the 1995 movie “Friday,” and alongside Bruce Willis in the 1997 movie “The Fifth Element.”

“You really need to reach out to a company that cares about your loved ones. A headstone company that can be trusted – and that company is Cemetery Tim, The Headstone Whisperer,” said Lister, who also filmed a couple of TV commercials for Cemetery Tim in 2020. He died in December.

Cemetery Tim recently was hired in late September to make a headstone for A.J. Johnson, who co-starred with Lister in “Friday.”

“That’s the power of social media and the internet – where anybody can tap you on shoulder at any moment in time and say, ‘I just lost my husband or my whoever.’ Can you help me?’ ” Morris said.

How does he feel to be designing headstones for famous people? It wasn’t part of his plan – but he’s embracing it.

“It’s really surreal. I mean honestly, I put a lot of time, blood, sweat and tears into this company and I thought about it and thought about what I wanted to do to help families, and honestly the word is getting around. And that’s the blessing. You work hard and you get to reap benefits. You stay focused and you don’t give up,” he said.

Morris recently flew from the Tri-Cities Airport to L.A. to meet with Johnson’s wife.

“I’m going to sit down at the table with her and find out who A.J. was and what made him happy and what he would want on his headstone. I’m going to have a discussion with her and his kids, and we’ll come up with a concept for him,” he said.

It’s no different from how he works with local families.

“Every family to me is the same. If I can, I will come to the table for everybody,” he said. “I don’t care where you come from. I want to just help out when I can.”

Search Headstones by Cemetery Tim: 325 W. Lewis St., Pasco; 509-380-0809; Cemeterytim.com.

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