Changing the Funeral Industry

Chelsea Smith likely doesn’t fit your image of the person you might meet at a funeral home.
But at her family’s business, Allen Family Funeral Options in Plano, she is learning what it takes to be a funeral director.

«I do all of the hair and makeup here, dress them, get them casketed and ready for their visitation or funeral,” Smith said. “Honoring a person and who they were.”

She’s following the lead of her mother, Melanie Allen, who decided to enter mortuary school when she was 30.

«It was 1990, and I believe there were probably 10 of us,” Allen said. “We had a class of about 150.”

Their careers represent a significant shift in the funeral industry. Not that long ago, women were most likely hired to be receptionists or office support.

«I think that the community responds very well to women,” Allen said. “I think that the sensitive nature that a woman has during this time is a huge benefit — not that men can’t be or are not, but I just think that there is a difference.”

At Golden Gate Funeral Home in Dallas, Marquetta Hubbard admits she is still fighting a few stereotypes and misperceptions.

«I know a lot of people don’t like to shake my hands,” she jokes.

Hubbard also started at age 30, after years of managing a group home for the disabled. She calls her work a ministry.

«You have to have a passion for this,” Hubbard said. “Because you will experience some things that the average person wouldn’t be able to handle.”

Golden Gate now has 10 women who are fully-licensed funeral directors. Hubbard’s boss, John Beckwith, Jr., says families do seem to prefer working with women.

«I think we finally realized as owners that women brought something special to the business which is that special touch,” Beckwith said.

The Dallas Institute of Funeral Service says today women make up more than half of each class, and the gap is growing. But they still get questions about why they do this.

«And the answer simply is probably 90 percent of what I do is with the living, and taking care of them through the most difficult days of their life,” Allen said. “They’ve lost somebody very close and near and dear to them, and if I can be there to carry them through that next step of positive grief, then I’ve done my job.”

There are also groups out there to support these women, like 100 Black Women of Funeral Service and Funeral Divas, which just started last fall and already has nearly 400 members.