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Death-services pro gives R.S. Lewis and Sons a shot in the arm

 

“African-American funeral rituals and customs have always been important and necessary within the fabric of our community,” said Eddie Hayes, manager of R.S. Lewis and Sons.

“I came home from Collins Chapel Hospital to a funeral home when I was born in 1948. Back in those days, black funeral homes were built with two stories so the director’s family could live upstairs. My earliest recollections were of helping my father embalm with those old manual hand pumps in the ‘preparation room.’ I grew up working in every aspect of the funeral business. I loved it so much that I knew early on what I wanted to be. I’ve never wanted to do anything else.”

Eddie Hayes
Newly appointed manager of R.S. Lewis and Sons

“African-American funeral rituals and customs have always been important and necessary within the fabric of our community,” said Eddie Hayes, manager of R.S. Lewis and Sons.

 
 Eddie Hayes, the new manager of R.S. Lewis and Sons, says he joined a great team, referring to Andre Jones, director of operations, and Richard Flowers, public relations manager. (Photo by Tyrone P. Easley)

“The traditions and practices which are so critical to our sense of culture and identity will always be top priority.”

Hayes, a former manager of N.J. Ford Funeral Home, took the helm of Lewis and Sons on January 1. He takes on administrative leadership, a position left void during the illness and after the death of the funeral home’s founder, Robert S. Lewis Sr., on November 28 of last year.

“Lewis and Sons, like most black mortuaries, began as a family-owned business,” Hayes told The New Tri-State Defender. “Its 90-year legacy of delivering quality service was founded on the personable, caring demeanor of Mr. Robert S. Lewis…and then, on that of his son, R.S. Lewis Jr. We are dedicated to continuing that same quality of care as we move forward.”

Hayes shared that his goal is to continue the legacy of caring, compassionate and dignified services that grieving families have expected from the Lewis brand for three generations. “We strive each and every day to keep that legacy alive,” said Hayes.

“I joined a great team here,” Hayes continued, referring to the funeral home’s staff of Andre Jones, director of operations, and Richard Flowers, public relations manager. Lewis and Sons simply “brought on a new quarterback,” said Hayes.

“Our work will continue to be a team effort. We have one mind, one purpose, and one vision – to do everything necessary to deliver quality service for the next 90 years.”

Evolving with the times

Hayes is the son of Eddie F. Hayes, who was first a funeral director with Hayes and Langston Funeral Home. Later, the elder Hayes formed Eddie F. Hayes and Sons Funeral Home. The business closed its doors in 1988. Hayes worked with Family Mortuary in north Memphis and later joined the N.J. Ford staff.

Like a modern-day griot, Hayes, who became a licensed mortician in 1968, Hayes can recount the meaning and origin of African-American “death customs” and how they continue today.

Robert Stevenson Lewis Sr. opened R.S. Lewis and Sons in the early 1920’s on Beale Street. The rapid growth of his mortuary precipitated a move to a larger building. After several years at the original location, Lewis and Sons moved to Vance Avenue, where it remains today.

“Those early days of funeral services consisted of cooling boards and hand-pump embalming machines. The deceased was prepared for viewing and final services right there in the home. It was a cultural practice indigenous to the antebellum south,” said Hayes.

“It was common for house slaves to prepare both whites and blacks for final services and burial. Certain families were assigned these duties, and they would pass the art and technique of preparing the dead to their children. Mortuary services have always been a family business.”

Various customs and practices came out of our fore parents’ treatment of their dead, with some persisting today, he said.

For example:

• The funeral director still has high involvement in preparation and planning of final arrangements.

• Family and friends gather at the home of the deceased to offer support and share in the burden of common grief.

• A wake is held at a church or funeral parlor, where the family is consoled by friends, neighbors and co-workers.

• A “homegoing” church service is held. Traditional black is still worn, but white is also used in dress as a sign of belief in resurrection of the dead as consistent with the Christian faith.

• After the funeral and burial, family and friends gather to share a meal at the home of the deceased, church fellowship hall, or some other venue.

“These practices have endured in our community because they help to bring closure to death and give us a sense of order in a very difficult time of mourning,” said Hayes.

“We will continue to honor these practices for the good and well-being of our client families. Above all else, we care about our families.”


 

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0 #1 adortch 2013-09-03 16:37
Eddie hayes
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