At first glance, John Willmott “Jack” Backer, III – age 16, tall, handsome, varsity tennis player and straight-A sophomore at Sayre School in Lexington, Kentucky – appears to be a typical teenager who enjoys tennis and playing guitar, especially Southern gospel and anything by Don Williams, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings or Johnny Cash.
If all goes as he plans, Jack will earn a business degree and then attend John A. Gupton College, the same mortuary school his late grandfather attended, and become a sixth-generation funeral director at Woodfin Funeral Chapels in Murfreesboro and Smyrna, Tennessee.
“Every time I pass his portrait hanging in the hall of our funeral home, I often wonder if my great-great-great grandfather, Luther Rice Jacobs, foresaw his great-great-great grandson following in his footsteps when he established his funeral parlor 130 years ago – or if he knew generations of his family would become undertakers as he had done in 1893,” Jack wondered aloud.
But to get the whole story, let’s look back to the beginning of this outstanding youngster’s journey.
“I was 8 years old when I experienced death for the first time. Then, within a year or two, several of my favorite people died,” he remembered. “My dad’s best friend had a horse farm out in the country. Our phone rang. There had been an accident. I remember my mother leaving in a big hurry. It was pouring rain. As I was to learn later, when my mom arrived at the farm, she saw my dad, our friend Stuart, and then the coroner’s van.”
Jack’s godparent, Christine, had been killed in a horseback riding accident.
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Southern Calls Issue 34
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