What is your life’s purpose?
My life purpose is to change how our society views death using the value of memorialization as a tool to help heal the earth and create something benefiting future generations.
How are you living your purpose?
As CEO of the non-profit Eternal Reefs, I get to introduce people and families to the idea of there being a social value in death and giving back. Eternal Reefs is a non-profit which takes a person’s cremated remains and mixes them with environmentally-friendly concrete to form a gigantic reef ball which is then placed at the bottom of the ocean to replenish the ocean’s diminishing natural reef systems. We see significant marine life growth on reef balls in as little as three months in the natural marine environment. Reef balls placed together over time create a new artificial, engineered reef system that mimics Mother Nature.
Families and friends can be as involved in the process as they wish, from actually mixing the cremains to going miles out in the ocean to watch their loved one’s Eternal Reef be placed to its final rest. When they participate in the creation of their loved one’s memorial, family members get ownership of the memorial. Personalizing the Eternal Reef with handprints, small mementos, and written messages in the damp concrete, the reef becomes more than a memorial. It becomes a tribute to their loved one that they created with their own hands.
Witnessing the reefs being placed and getting the opportunity to dedicate the reef site in their loved one’s name gives the family a real sense of personal contribution and accomplishment. When they see the life and growth these memorials support, families and friends internalize the ideas of giving back and participating in the circle of life. What people often tell us is, “It’s not like they are gone, it’s more like, ‘look what they are doing now!’”
How did you find your purpose?
While working in the automobile emission inspection business in the late 1990s, I was dealing with my mother’s life winding down and my brother being diagnosed as terminally ill. We were facing complications with my mother’s burial because of religious issues and she would take the last spot in our family cemetery plot in New York. My brother was living in Houston and was planning on being cremated with no interest in being brought back to New York. I also needed to figure out what I wanted for myself. As a result, my mind was wide open to the issue of death and memorialization.
Don Brawley was working with me and had been involved with the development of an artificial reef system called Reef Balls when he was in college. Before he passed away, Don’s father-in-law told Don he wanted to be in one of those reefs rather than in a field with a bunch of old dead people. He liked the idea of all that life and action going on around him. When Don’s father-in-law passed, Don requested time off to make the reef.
The idea of reef memorialization immediately made complete sense to me. It fit my beliefs and personality and I figured I would get to work with heavy equipment, big boats, and get to dive on a regular basis. Ironically, none of that happened… Instead, I have been privileged to positively impact the lives of many families as they honor their loved ones with a meaningful memorial that gives back to the environment in the afterlife.
What advice do you have for purpose seekers?
I think that many times people start something because they enjoy doing it or they enjoy the idea of it—and at some point, it becomes a passion. The idea of a purpose may not become apparent for a long time.
Frequently, people start on journey or in a direction without having a real understanding of what they are doing or where they are going. But if they find what they are doing is important and of value to others, they need to continue on their journey. In many cases, the purpose becomes clearer over time as they gain experience and they learn the path they are taking. That is what I experienced as we developed Eternal Reefs.
Having a purpose generally calls for people to act as a change agent in some form or fashion. People pursuing a purpose need to be more focused on the journey rather than the destination, as the journey is where the change occurs and the purpose becomes apparent to others.
I encourage you to read everything you can find on the areas that are looking to be influenced. Learn the human dynamics of the people you are trying to reach. Most people are afraid of change and are resistant to it. Keep in mind that there are always forces that will oppose change, some because they don’t understand it, others because they are afraid of the unknown, and still others because they are vested in maintaining the status quo.
Learn to listen. Don’t be afraid to be wrong.
What resources do you recommend?
The Conversation Project
Five Wishes (living will)
Memorial Ecosystems (first conservation burial ground in the US)
Recognize a stroke: FAST
Grave Matters: A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial by Mark Harris
George Frankel became C.E.O. of Eternal Reefs, Inc. in January of 2000. George previously served as President and C.E.O. of Georgia Emission Testing Company. Prior to that, George was Vice President of Operations for Wachovia Corporation from 1979 to 1987.
After leaving Wachovia in 1987 George founded Georgia Emission Testing Co. (G.E.T.Co.) and in just two years, grew it to the largest automobile emission testing company in Georgia. When G.E.T.Co. was sold in 1998, it was one of the largest emission testing companies in the country. George then spent the next year as a strategic advisor to Eternal Reefs, Inc. as the company went through its business-planning phase.
George has attended numerous colleges and universities, is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin Bank Administration Institute at Madison and is a member of the Babson College Entrepreneur Fellowship.
George served as a Search and Rescue Specialist for the United States Coast Guard from which he was honorably discharged and is a past Vice President of the Atlanta Whitewater Club.