Colvin Funeral Home is a second-generation business, now run by Henry Mitchell Colvin Jr. In addition to its multi-faceted location on Murchison Road in Fayetteville, there is a branch in Lumberton. In 35 years, the staff has doubled to 12 people.
The elder Colvin and Paul Campbell opened Campbell-Colvin Funeral Home, and after one year, Colvin bought Campbell’s share of the business and it became Colvin Funeral Home. Colvin was the owner and president, continuing to run his construction business and hiring someone to operate the funeral home. His wife, Elva, was a licensed funeral director who managed Colvin Funeral Home for about 20 years.
In 1995, Colvin Jr. purchased the business from his father and formed a corporation. A licensed funeral director and embalmer, he has been managing the day-to-day operations for 11 years.
“I basically grew up working in the business,” he says. “I did whatever needed to be done, from taking out the trash to answering the phone and running errands. When I was 15 or 16, I started out in the cemetery, digging graves and setting up tents for funerals.
“My mom kind of implied that she wanted me and my brother to carry on the business. At one time, I felt I would never do this, that working in a funeral home might be the last thing I would do for a living. But my senior year in high school at E.E. Smith, I thought I needed to decide on my future path, and I came back to this.”
Dealing with people who have lost a loved one is an extremely sensitive proposition, and even though a funeral home is a business, it must be many other things as well.
“You have to be a special person to work in this business,” Colvin says. “It’s not for everybody. Our employees may work 50-60 hours a week, and a work day is not always nine to five. They may have to get out of bed at three or four in the morning to respond to a call, and at night, there are wakes and visitations.
“Ninety percent of what the public expects is good service. There is the immediate bereavement period of three to six days, planning the funeral and then the actual service itself. People need us to be at their beck and call; they are unsure of how to handle things. Sometimes, we even have folks who ask us about finances. There are questions about funeral service procedures. We also work with different organizations in the planning phase. For example, we help get family members home from overseas. Sometimes we plan the whole thing. I recommend that people touch base with the clergy, but sometimes people don’t even know the name of a minister, so we have a list of pastors that we suggest on a rotating basis, and then we contact them.
“We push pre-planning,” Colvin says. “That sure makes it easier on everyone concerned when a death occurs.”
Colvin Funeral Home includes a chapel that recently underwent extensive renovation and expansion. There is a growing number of families who choose to hold services at the funeral home rather than at a church.
“We have grown the business,” Colvin says, “in terms of the services we provide. You have to continue to re-invent yourself. The consumers’ needs are growing, and we have to keep ourselves in position to accommodate them.
“I think there are three parts to having a successful funeral home. You must have a good rapport and reputation to obtain the business. Then, you have to provide good service to the clients. Finally, there is the business side – measuring your expenses and revenues. You have to navigate the waters.
“It is important to establish a bond with people who are mourning. I try to put myself in their position. We try to show compassion and respect. Death is tough on families.
“The hardest things,” Colvin says, “are services for children and for people close to you, either family members or former classmates. My wife, Daisha, and I have three daughters, and when we have a child’s funeral, I take it to heart. And then there are friends and relatives. This past September, my two first cousins – a brother and sister – died within two weeks of each other. Beverly Jones and I were the same age, and we had grown up together. Her brother, Dwight, was 40. I tried to be there for the family, but that was very hard. Both deaths were unexpected, and it is difficult to deal with that.
“When death enters your family, you step back, but … it’s a business, and you try to do what you can to make the situation as comfortable as you can.”
Colvin’s brother, Michael, works in the funeral home, and their mother has an office at the business.
“She keeps me straight,” Colvin says, smiling, “and I’m glad she comes around. I like working with my family. In this business, you need family.
“The most rewarding thing about being in the funeral home business is being there for people. At the end of the process, when you are dealing with people at their lowest point, and they come up and thank us or send a card of appreciation, it makes you feel good that you have helped someone.
“You can’t take things personally. That, of course, is easier said than done. But even though we feel for people, we have to keep a certain distance in order to remain professional and do our job the way it should be done.
“Death, after all, is a part of life.”
Thad Mumau is a regular contributor to CityView Magazine, writing about local sports history as well as a variety of other topics.