The rose petal-covered entrance to Cave Hill Cemetery.
The rose petal-covered entrance to Cave Hill Cemetery.

Maggie CassaroBy now, the image of Muhammad Ali’s funeral procession passing through a bed of rose petals to his final resting place in Cave Hill Cemetery has become iconic.

The touching tribute was all thanks to Maggie Cassaro, a Louisville artist with strong UofL ties.

Cassaro works part-time at the medical school. She graduated in 1986 with a BS in business administration and is now earning an English MA with a concentration in Creative Writing. After Ali died and plans were put into place for his funeral and memorial service to be held in Louisville, she came up with the rose petal idea and tapped others to help pull it off.

“It was truly a community effort to make this happen,” she said.

When she first heard of Ali’s passing, she wondered “How do you honor someone like that?”

Her family had lined the entrances to her mother’s home with rose petals when she died. The beautiful image stuck with her and inspired her.

Petals lining the drive to Cassaro's mother's home.
Petals lining the drive to Cassaro’s mother’s home.

Because she had worked with Cave Hill for her mother’s burial, she knew who to call. She posed her idea to Cave Hill’s director, who liked the idea but had to check with the funeral home. 

The funeral home passed the request along to Lonnie Ali, Muhammad Ali’s wife.

Cassaro was told that “Lonnie cried and said it was the most generous gift of gratitude that she’d ever received.”

After Cassaro got the green light to continue, she contacted Nanz and Kraft Florists. They agreed to help and so did Schulz’s Florist, Valumarket and Costco. Between them all, some 2,000 roses worth more than $6,000 were donated.

Some of the many petals Cassaro transported to Cave Hill Cemetery.

Cassaro worked with friends to pull the petals apart and it took several hours to lay the petals down.

After the procession passed, people picked up the petals and took them home as souvenirs.

Niki King
Niki King Jones is positive she has the best job at the University of Louisville, serving the communication needs of the departments of fine arts and theatre, the School of Music, University Libraries and Alumni – all the fun, creative stuff. Before coming to UofL in 2015, Niki held communication positions in both private and nonprofit sectors in Louisville, Ky., including at Heaven Hill Distilleries and the Jewish Community of Louisville. For 10 years prior, she was a reporter at various newspapers across the country, most recently The Courier-Journal. Niki graduated from the University of Memphis with a BA in journalism and has a masters degree in community and leadership development from the University of Kentucky.