ELMHURST, Queens (PIX11) — His name is Morgan, and he runs the morgue of Elmhurst Hospital. That coincidence is the very least of the reasons why the veteran mortician retiring from the hospital after three decades is being lauded as an exemplary manager and community leader whose back story — along with that of his brother — leaves many people in disbelief.
It’s very true, though, and is part of why Melvin Morgan, and his brother Marvin, will be missed, according to colleagues and friends. They lined up in a corridor by the dozens in the hospital on Wednesday to applaud, hug, high-five, shake hands, and fist bump the two brothers as part of a farewell ceremony for Melvin.
He said he began his work at Elmhurst after being inspired by Marvin. Both Melvin Morgan and Marvin Morgan work in mortuaries.
On Wednesday, Melvin’s last full day at work after a remarkable career, he showed why his job is more like a calling to him.
“These are lungs, a heart,” he said, referencing a display of organs in a see-through container of formaldehyde on a shelf in his workplace. It’s the morgue in the basement of the hospital’s five-building campus.
In the presence of the lab coat-clad, trim 69-year-old, it was evident that he saw his role as being a teacher and a practitioner.
Through his more than 30 years at the hospital, 22 of which have been in the morgue performing autopsies, he’s become an educator about the human body, death, and life.
“All of us have to try and get along,” he said, “and make this level of life peaceful for everyone.”
Melvin said that funerary work had been part of his life from day one when his mother was in labor, and she told his father that he had to choose a name for the twins she was carrying.
“As they were going to the hospital,” Melvin said, “he saw the name ‘Melvin and Marvin Funeral Home,'” in Washington, D.C., where the twins were born. “That’s how we ended up with the name[s] Melvin and Marvin. That’s a true story.”
The two brothers are identical twins, named after a funeral home, and they are both morticians who have seen a lot in their careers. Melvin has been at Elmhurst, the epicenter of the epicenter during the depths of the pandemic, in the spring of 2020.
“That was the most [disturbing] thing, the pandemic,” Melvin said in an interview. “It still affects me today.”
“There was so many bodies. It started at 10 bodies a day,” he continued, saying that the situation escalated rapidly. “It was like 35 to 40 bodies a day.”
Marvin Morgan’s career was at the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office. He worked during Sept. 11 attacks, the Staten Island ferry crash that killed 11 people, the depths of the pandemic, and many other cases of death at the city’s busiest morgue.
Still, both brothers say they’re pleased they’ve carried out a journey that started when they were boys and visited relatives in North Carolina. There, they were shown where previous generations of their family had been buried.
“They didn’t have no markers [and the graveyard] was full of leaves,” Marvin said. “From that moment on, my brother and I decided rich people can afford it, [but] poor people need to be buried properly.”
Marvin retired a year ago and still advocates for respectful burials for indigent people. He’s specifically called for funeral costs to be paid for low-income people whose organs have been harvested.
His brother Melvin’s last day at Elmhurst Hospital is Thursday. Both men say that they’ll continue to work that they’ve done since settling down in Queens five decades ago: being active in various neighborhood organizations, including their local community board, as well as a sports and organizational leadership group they founded.
Among its thousands of successful participants over the years have been NBA greats, Kenny Smith and Kenny Anderson. Another success story happens to be Melvin Morgan’s boss now.
“Melvin was the first voice that was like, ‘You don’t have to become anything,'” said Helen Arteaga Landaverde in an interview. “‘You can just become yourself,'” she quoted him as saying, “and that’s enough.”
Landaverde emigrated to Queens from Ecuador when she was 12. Shortly after, she met the Morgan Brothers, who gave her, and hundreds of other young people, encouragement. Melvin convinced her, at 18, to join the community board.
She said that the brothers have been a bolstering presence throughout Corona and Lefrak City, where she and the Morgans are from.
Melvin was particularly helpful, she said, when she was named CEO of Elmhurst Hospital. It was as the second wave of Covid was beginning in the winter of 2020.
“Having Melvin again not only vouch for me,” Landaverde said, “but [for him to say], ‘Yeah, I’ve seen her grow up. I know she can do this job. Just watch her.'”
“That kind of backing,” she continued, “made a lot of the line staff, a lot of the employees come to trust me.”
The Morgans said that through their years at their mortuaries and in their community involvement, they’ve believed that every individual makes their own destiny.
“No one can tell you where you come from, no one can tell you why you’re here, and they sure can’t tell you where you’re going,” Melvin said.