Interview with the country’s oldest funeral officiant, a 93-year-old Freemason named Norman

By: Justin Nobel | Date: Tue, January 3rd, 2012

Norman Miller fought in World War II then Korea and has been leading Freemason funeral services ever since.

The freemasons are a secretive organization with obscure origins and mysterious symbols. Norman Miller is 93 years old and has performed more than 1,000 masonic funerals.

He currently lives in El Paso, Texas. Digital Dying spoke with him over the phone about how he got started, what a Freemason funeral is like and after seeing so many deaths, how he keeps going. The freemasons are a secretive organization with obscure origins. Sometime during the 15th or 16th century the first chapel, or lodge, was begun in Scotland. There are now an estimated six million Masons around the world, and just under two million in the US. Geographic regions are divided into jurisdictions, which are administered by Grand Lodges. El Paso, where Norman lives, has 10 lodges. A list of famous Freemasons includes the Italian President Silvio Berlusconi (he was expelled from the order in 1981), Nat King Cole, King Edward the VIII, Benjamin Franklin, J. Edgar Hoover, Meriwether Lewis, Harry Houdini, Mozart’s dad Leopold, Arnold Palmer, Paul Revere, World War II General Douglas MacArthur, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde and numerous US presidents, including the most famous Mason, George Washington.

How did you start performing Mason funerals?

When I was still a young man a lady came up to me and we had a really nice conversation. She said, ‘Norman, you ought to go into the ministry.’ I never did but I went to the Lutheran church and sang in the quire. I joined the Masons in 1958 and retired from the Army in 1963. I did my first Masonic funeral in March of 1964. The job was given to me by the former secretary of the lodge. He just handed me this paper about Mason funerals and told me that I would now be leading them. I said, ‘Isn’t this supposed to be done by the master of the lodge?’ and he said, ‘Learn it, you have to do it.’ So I did. I have done over 1,000 funerals since then. I have another one this Thursday.

Has it been depressing to lead so many funerals?

It has been not a pleasure for me but an inspiration, because the people you come in contact with appreciate it so much. It doesn’t bother me, I have a firm belief in the deity. I have no fear of death. When the Lord wants me he can take me. Both my parents have passed away, and I just had a brother who passed away, he was 94. I have had very close friends in the masonry that have passed away. I have realized that they must be taken, earth to earth, ashes to ashes and dust to dust. When you come into this world you are a free born person and when you pass away, if you live the right kind of life, you are also a free person.

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What’s a Mason funeral ceremony like?

I wear a suit with a masonic apron over it, which is a white apron that we have worn for hundreds of years. They used to be made of animal skin but now are made by these companies that furnish masonic materials. You tie the apron around the back, and I have an arm band that I put on. I take a little sprig of evergreen and put it in my left breast jacket pocket. We deposit this sprig into the grave, or if it is a cremation we are dealing with, then into the urn. For it is our belief that within us there is an immortal spirit, and that our soul shall blossom in eternal strength. The sprig helps make that possible. The evergreen represents life everlasting. We commit the body to the earth and to the great creator.

How long are the ceremonies?

They used to be real long, sometimes 30 to 40 minutes, but it was too much. It distracted from things, so we shortened it down to about 12 minutes. I have done funeral services in chapels, and some right at the gravesite. The preacher does their part and if it’s a military funeral there will be a salute and the folding of the flag, then we come in at the end of the service.

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Can you tell me a bit more about yourself?

I was raised in Wisconsin and drafted into the Army in January of 1942. I was in the Army for over 20 years and served in World War II and Korea. On my final tour I went back again to Germany. I was very fortunate, the Lord let me be, I came to no harm and here I am. I settled in El Paso because of my wife. We had gone to school together back in Wisconsin. She became sick with arthritis and I wanted to be in an area that was comfortable for her. El Paso is right on the border, it’s really dry. She enjoyed being here. I followed in the footsteps of my brother, and my mother and father and lived a good life, a God-loving life. I think that’s what I owe my longevity to. I am 93 years old, you know. Really, 93 years young. I still drive my own car.

Have you ever been to a Mason funeral? Leave a comment below and let us know more about it..

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