February 20, 2013 in City

Farewell tour

Punctual, detail-oriented veteran finally got the trip he dreamed about – thanks to a postal mix-up after he died
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Jesse Tinsley photoBuy this photo

From left, Katy O’Grady, Cathy Dodson and Mike Dodson stand by the grave of Kevin O’Grady, the father and brother-in-law of the three, on Sunday at the Washington State Veterans Cemetery near Medical Lake. After O’Grady died during treatment for lymphoma, his cremated remains were lost in the mail. His family held his service as his remains traversed the country.
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Kevin O’Grady was the kind of guy who was never late.

“If he told you he’d pick you up at 5 o’clock, he’d get there by 4:59,” the Air Force veteran and upholstery expert’s youngest daughter, Katy O’Grady, recalled. “He was always early.”

He also was the kind of guy who put work and his commitments to others first, which meant his dream trip to the East Coast and places like Chicago kept getting pushed back year after year – right up to the day he died at age 73 while undergoing treatment in Seattle for lymphoma.

And that’s partly why his family’s hearts were so heavy last month when the unthinkable happened.

O’Grady’s remains went missing.

After a lifetime of punctuality, he missed his own funeral at the Washington State Veterans Cemetery on Spokane’s West Plains.

“The post office lost him,” Katy O’Grady explained. “We were devastated. Nobody could tell us where Dad went.”

Turns out Kevin O’Grady got that trip to the East Coast after all.

A mix-up at the post office in Seattle, where his ashes were supposed to be loaded up for an overnight trip to Spokane, instead sent O’Grady’s remains on an unexpected cross-country journey to many of the places he’d always wanted to visit.

On the day of his funeral, for example, the postal tracking number showed he’d been mistakenly routed to Pennsylvania. Then, as his friends and family were celebrating his life with bowls of chili in Spokane, he was traversing parts of New Jersey. Later, the westbound truck bringing the package back to the Pacific Northwest passed through the southern suburbs of Chicago, one of the cities he’d most wanted to visit.

The realization engulfed the family like a comforting hug from beyond.

“It hit me the minute we found out he’d somehow ended up in Philadelphia,” said oldest daughter Shana MacVicar. “I just started laughing and couldn’t stop. Dad got his trip.”

With the exception of a stint in the U.S. Air Force, Kevin O’Grady spent most of his life in Eastern Washington but always talked about traveling the United States. He owned and operated O’Grady’s Upholstery in Hillyard for years, then worked in downtown Spokane. His specialty was custom upholstery, and he was routinely sought out by vintage auto enthusiasts restoring old cars.

Those who knew him are still chuckling about the snafu.

“If he was here he’d be laughing with us,” Katy O’Grady said. “And the fact that he got to travel on the post office’s dime, he’d have loved it.”

Sending human remains through the U.S. Postal Service is permitted but must be disclosed in advance and shipped either by express or registered mail, said Sharon Wesselman, a Postal Service spokeswoman in Spokane.

The package containing O’Grady’s ashes was sent from Seattle by certified instead of registered mail, though it’s unclear whether that had anything to do with the mix-up. It finally arrived in Spokane on Jan. 22, about a week late.

“It’s very unfortunate what happened,” said Wesselman, extending her apologies to the O’Grady family and adding that it’s rare for packages to get so misrouted. “We really do try hard.”

The rarity of such mistakes is what gives the O’Grady’s family even more pause.

“I don’t believe in accidents,” MacVicar said. “I feel there’s a blessing here. I miss my dad, but it also puts me at peace.”

Watch David Wasson talk about this story on KHQ


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