For professionals, college is often viewed as the most formidable part of any career. As the morning dew turns to frost and leaves begin to change, fall semester is already in full swing. Registering for class, buying books and taking exams can be daunting, and mortuary school is no different. As a required prerequisite for licensure by the overwhelming majority of states, the education is intense, impactful and challenging. Relationships are initially introduced with formal roles, clearly defined as instructor and student but, by the end, have evolved into close friendships among colleagues that last a lifetime.
When Southern Calls first announced that longtime Gupton-Jones College President Dan Buchanan would be featured, the news went viral across social media. An outpouring of solidarity and support for the former educator was almost instantaneous. The flood of comments was overwhelming, an obvious testament to his widespread respect and admiration, and how he has served as a devoted and loyal mentor to countless funeral directors. Buchanan’s reputation precedes him, while his wisdom reaches far beyond the classroom.
Born in Burlington, North Carolina, Buchanan remembers that his curiosity about funeral service began in elementary school. His father, The Rev. Ralph L. Buchanan, was a Presbyterian minister.
“Churches were the cultural and political centers of the community during this time, and my dad was serving a relatively large congregation at Hawfields Presbyterian Church, which was attended by many prominent local politicians,” said Buchanan
In 1958, former North Carolina Gov. Kerr Scott died while serving in Washington as a US Senator representing the state.
“I took the day off from school to attend his funeral, which was held at the church and attended by Richard Nixon, who was then serving as vice president, as well as other senators and politicians from around the country,” Buchanan remembered.
After the service, Scott was buried in the church cemetery.
“The whole funeral was impressive, and I was particularly interested in how the funeral directors conducted and carried themselves. I was intrigued and knew there was something about those people, but I wasn’t sure exactly what they did,” described Buchanan, recalling the first time he made his career goal known publicly.
“When my third grade teacher was asking our class what we wanted to be when we grew up, I announced my intention to become a funeral director,” he proclaimed.
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