Lambda Legal Mourns Passing of Jack Zawadski, Husband of Deceased Gay Man Turned Away by Mississippi Funeral Home

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January 31, 2018
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Jack Zawadski and his nephew John Gaspari.

Lambda Legal announced it will continue its battle against a Picayune, MS, funeral home on behalf of Jack Zawadski, an 82-year-old widower whose family was forced to scramble to find another funeral home to provide services for his husband, Robert “Bob” Huskey, when the funeral home discriminated against them when told they were a married same-sex couple.

Zawadski died last month. Lambda Legal today asked the court to substitute Zawadski’s nephew, John Gaspari, for Zawadski in the lawsuit.

“Jack was a fighter, willing to sacrifice a great deal by bringing this lawsuit in order to bring dignity to his late husband and to help others,” Lambda Legal Counsel Beth Littrell said. “What happened to him in the wake of Bob’s death is shocking. Jack was a courageous man and loving spouse who was plunged into a nightmare when the funeral home operator discriminated against his family in their time of need. We mourn his passing and we continue his fight.”

Jack Zawadski and Bob Huskey were a loving couple for 52 years. After meeting in Anaheim, California in 1965, they moved together to Colorado, Wisconsin and then, 20 years ago, to Picayune, Mississippi. They loved Picayune and felt welcome in the community. After state marriage bans were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015, they married in Mississippi. Bob was in failing health, and soon after the wedding, he entered a nursing home.

In late April, 2016, knowing Bob’s time was short, their nephew, John Gaspari, entered into an agreement with Picayune Funeral Home to cremate Bob after his death at Picayune Funeral Home’s on-site crematorium – the only crematorium in Pearl River County.

After Bob died on May 11, 2016, the nursing home provided Picayune Funeral Home with necessary information confirming Bob’s death and identifying Jack as his husband. Shortly thereafter, the nursing home called Gaspari, who was then back at his home in Colorado, and informed him that Picayune Funeral Home was now refusing to pick up the body and perform the cremation. Since the nursing home could not keep Bob’s body on site, John had to scramble to locate another funeral home with an on-site crematorium. The closest one was in Hattiesburg, some 70 miles away.

“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” Gaspari said. “I had very carefully made all the necessary arrangements with Picayune Funeral Home precisely to spare Jack from additional suffering. Instead of a peaceful passing and a gathering with friends to support Jack in his grief, it became a nightmare, adding immeasurable anguish to Uncle Jack’s loss. He suffered harassment and abuse after he filed this lawsuit, and he never recovered from losing his husband or from the indignity he suffered from the funeral home operator’s actions.  I will miss him terribly, but I find comfort knowing he and Bob are finally together again.”

The lawsuit, filed in April, 2017, by Lambda Legal with co-counsel Jackson attorney Robert McDuff, is in Mississippi’s Circuit Court of Pearl River County. The suit seeks damages from Picayune Funeral Home’s parent company, Brewer Funeral Services, and its owners for breach of contract, negligent misrepresentation, and the intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.