Hundreds at UNT worker's funeral, including a distant relative
On Tuesday, 39-year-old Cherrie Robinson of Atlanta came across a story shared by one of her friends on Facebook about a funeral service for a woman who had no known living relatives.
As Robinson read the comments, something caught her eye.
"I clicked on it to read it and as I went to scroll, I noticed her eyes and immediately I kind of knew," she said.
Robinson realized that the woman, 67-year-old Margaret Rosa King, was her long-lost aunt.
Robinson was determined to attend Wednesday's funeral for King, a former graduate student and custodial employee at the University of North Texas, who died of natural causes Sept. 14.
UNT staff and UNT police confirmed the family connection as Robinson booked a flight from Atlanta and arrived hours before the funeral at Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery.
"We've been looking for her for years," Robinson said. "I think it was just her energy and her spirit that brought me here."
But Robinson wasn't the only one to attend.
Vehicles began pulling into the cemetery by the dozens Wednesday morning. Three rows of traffic stretched from inside the cemetery to its entry gates. The cemetery had to bring out additional staff to direct traffic.
"People came out of nowhere and it was just a shock that so many people cared to show up and celebrate her," Robinson said. "It's amazing. I didn't expect such a crowd."
One person who couldn't make it in time, though, was another living relative — Robinson's mother and King's half-sister, who lives in Sun City, California.
Robinson's mother, who is a few years older than King and her only sibling according to Robinson, was en route to Dallas with King's birth certificate but didn't make it in time.
"As soon as I saw the picture and I saw the name I had to contact my mother," Robinson said. "I grew up knowing that she existed. I still have a doll that she gave me as a kid."
The big crowd at Wednesday's funeral, nearly 200 people, also caught the UNT staff by surprise after they had arranged a small service, according to spokeswoman Leigh Anne Gullett.
"It seems like the majority of the people who came were people who saw the news story," Gullett said.
The Denton police and investigators showed up, as well as police from Haltom City, where King lived.
Members of the U.S. Air Force and the Patriot Guard Riders presented Robinson with an American flag and a plaque honoring King's military service to the country.
Robinson said her mom always described King as a private person. But both loved education.
"We just kind of took it that she was off in her studies," she said. "She liked to travel. She really enjoyed learning, like my mom, and we took it as that.
"She was at a different stage than my mom so sometimes with her [mother's] work and her [ King's] studies they just kind of got separated and lost contact with one another," Robinson said. "We've been looking for her for years actually."
Robinson added that she was too young to remember the last time she spoke with King. But her description of King as an avid lover of education was shared by one of King's co-workers at UNT.
"Margaret always had a smile while she worked and was well-liked by the staff," said David Barkenhagen, a UNT custodial services manager.
Barkenhagen said King accumulated multiple degrees — two associate's, one bachelor's and two masters (both from UNT). At the time of her death, she was studying for a graduate degree in interdisciplinary studies at UNT.
King was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1950 and graduated from Washington Irving High School.
She was on active duty with the U. S. Air Force from 1971 to 1974, worked for the U.S. Department of Defense in Virginia from 1974-1997 and transferred to Lockheed Martin before retiring in 2003.
King went on to work at Tarrant County College in Fort Worth as an adjunct instructor before she joined UNT in the summer of 2016 as a full-time custodian and master's student.
Robinson said her family will now arrange for King's remains to be sent to her mother in California.
"I never wanted to find her in death," Robinson said. "But it means so much to me to see how impactful she was and that people care."