Joe Taylor, longtime funeral director, retires

Published 8:26 am Monday, June 25, 2018

A major change will soon take place at Elizabethton’s Tetrick Funeral Home. Joe Taylor, long-time funeral director, will retire at the end of June and will be succeeded by Charlie Bowman, who presently serves as director at Hathaway-Percy Funeral Home.

“Charlie is a good guy and will do good,” said Taylor, who has been in the funeral business for 53 years. “Fifty-three years is a long time. It is a stressful job,” Taylor said of his work that does not respect the clock. “People die on holidays, on the weekends, and at night. It’s inconvenient at times, but it has its rewards. I want to express to Elizabethton and Carter County my thanks for having served them all these years. It has been wonderful. The people here have felt more like extended family than clients,” Taylor shared.

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“I have been fortunate to work in a position where I can help others. That has meant a lot to me. Although death is a sad time, there have been a lot of smiles and laughs, too, in a good way,” he said.

Taylor began working at Tetrick’s in 1965 a week after graduating from high school. “Mr. Don (Tetrick) was looking for night boys. They cleaned carpet, emptied the garbage, mowed, just whatever needed to be done. I applied for the job and that afternoon he hired me,” Taylor said. He had to start work at 5 p.m. that day, so he walked back home to Allen Avenue, changed clothes and walked back and went to work.

“I worked at the funeral home from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m. Monday through Thursday.  I mowed yards during the day and with my money bought a 1955 Studebaker,” Taylor said with a grin.

During that first summer, he helped with visitation at the funeral home and picked up bodies. “At that time we weren’t doing night funerals. They were held during the day and at the church,” Taylor said.

When fall came, Joe enrolled at East Tennessee State University and took some day classes. That didn’t last long as Joe, realizing that he would probably soon be drafted for military service, volunteered for a three-year stint in the U.S. Army. He also married his high school sweetheart, Shirley, who has been at his side ever since. “We lived at Ft. Carson, Colo., two years and then I went to Vietnam for a year. She came back to Carter County and worked at the old K-Mart in Johnson City. I sent every one of my checks home and she and her dad remodeled a house her dad had. When I came home it was like new,” Taylor said.

Upon his discharge from service, he went back to the funeral home to work.

“One day as I was working, Mr. Don approached me and asked me if I like working at the funeral home. He then suggested I go to mortuary school. So, Shirley and I locked the house down and moved to Dallas, where I attended mortuary school for a year,” Taylor said.

After school, he returned to work for Tetrick’s for two years, then went to Mountain City to work at Gentry Funeral Home for two years. From there, he and Shirley moved to Etowah, where he worked for six years.

Taylor returned to Elizabethton and Tetrick’s in 1980. “Both of our parents were aged, and Mr. Tetrick was retiring, so the timing was right to come back,” he reasoned.

“My funeral home work has been a wonderful experience. The greatest thing, and the most humbling thing I take away from it is that the Lord made us, and every body is his handiwork and we need to handle it as tenderly as we can. All are due the respect,” Taylor said.

A lot has changed in the funeral business over the years. “We went from day funerals to night funerals. Now, some families are getting away from funerals and visitation entirely, opting for a memorial service at the graveside. We do more and more cremations. We do encourage families to do some kind of service as it gives closure and everyone deserves some kind of recognition,” Taylor opined.

One of the biggest changes in the business that Taylor has witnessed is the technology. “In my earlier years of employment, obituaries were typed on an old typewriter and hand-carried to the newspapers and radio stations. Some, we gave over the phone. Later, we faxed them. Now, we simply e-mail them along with the photos. Electronics has changed everything,” Taylor explained.

“We’ve seen changes in the ways we do services. They are more personalized with things like DVDs and picture boards. Ministers used to do it all, now families have people to do eulogies. Another change has been with music as the traditional organist has given way to the deceased’s favorite music put on a CD to be used,” Taylor shared.

Taylor gives much credit for his success to his mentors, especially Mr. Tetrick and the Tetrick family. “They have been really good to me. My wife has been most supportive. I can’t say enough good about her. Sometimes I would show up for supper two hours late, and she never said a thing. She simply warmed it up and put it on the table,” Taylor said.

He also gives a lot of credit to his staff. “I have had great staffs through the years, from the person who answered the phone, to the people who did the embalming, dressing and make-up, office help, to the people parking the cars. They have been extremely professional,” Taylor shared.

The last 53 years have provided him with some memorable moments. “I’ve been to Arlington Cemetery three or four times, to every part of the county. Every funeral has been an experience. And, you give everyone your best,” he said.

With retirement just days away, Taylor plans to spend a lot of time around the house, do some yard and gardening work. “My wife and I plan to visit our daughter, Jessica, more often,” he said. Jessica is a Digital Political Reporter for National Public Radio in Washington, D.C.  Jessica was born on Father’s Day in 1985. “We had been married 20 years when Jessica was born, and she has been a joy and blessing,” Taylor added with pride.

Shirley, Joe’s wife, retired at the end of March as financial secretary for the Watauga Association of Baptists.

“First thing, we’re going to travel to Washington, D.C., pick up our daughter and go to the Outer Banks for a vacation,” Taylor said.

This weekend, Taylor will be honored by the Tetricks and his co-workers with a barbecue picnic. “I have so many good memories of the people in this community, my co-workers. I can’t say enough,” he said.

He and his wife are members of Grace Baptist Church.