Trust programs honored legacy of past, vitality of present

As the chairman of the Forest Hills Educational Trust Board of Directors and former chairman of Forest Hills Cemetery Board of Directors, I feel compelled to respond to Richard Heath’s letter (JP Gazette, Feb. 4) regarding the trust’s work.

Mr. Heath suggests that the trust ignored the rich history and magnificent landscape of Forest Hills in favor of cultural programs and contemporary art. In reality, the strength of the trust’s programs was that they honored the cemetery’s past and drew inspiration from its splendid— and sacred—landscape. At the same time, the trust developed new ways for the people of today, who are not Victorians, to engage with the mission of the cemetery.

The trust sponsored walking tours, scholarly research, preservation projects and educational programs. But it also invited diverse community artists, from sculptors and poets to The Borromeo String Quartet and La Piñata, to present art, poetry, music and rituals that expanded the cemetery’s role as a place to remember loved ones, reflect on mortality and celebrate life.

Henry Dearborn, the cemetery’s founder, was himself a great innovator and would have been proud. Although the cemetery became private in 1868, Dearborn founded the cemetery while Mayor of Roxbury, as a public institution intended to serve and welcome people from all walks of life.

The power of Forest Hills Cemetery is that there is no reason to choose between art, nature or history—all are important in its hallowed grounds. There is no reason to choose between the legacy of the past and the vitality of the present; the cemetery continues to evolve. While many families have a private and personal connection to Forest Hills, there is no reason to deny its role as one of Boston’s grand institutions and a vital public resource. And, most remarkably, when experiencing its profound and beautiful landscape, it is possible to feel the joy of being alive while acknowledging the reality of death and the tragedy of loss.

Hundreds of people have told us that the suspension of trust programs is dismaying. It is my sincere hope that the trust and the Cemetery will reach an agreement that allows our important work to continue.

Robert W. Macleod
Forest Hills Educational Trust Board of Directors
Jamaica Plain

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