If you’ve never been to Brewton, Alabama, you may not know this city of 5,100 is on the border of Central Alabama and the panhandle of Florida. You also might not know that Alabama’s Blueberry Festival is held here annually or that Kevin Sumlin, former coach of the Houston Cougars and the Texas A&M Aggies and the current head coach at the University of Arizona, grew up here or that Catherine Crosby, Miss America 2003, was born here. If you’re old enough, you might know that country-western singer Hank Locklin got his start in Brewton.
It’s also the birthplace and home of Jarrod Heath Wilson, vice president, funeral director/embalmer and owner of Craver’s Funeral Home, who was called by God to funeral service from boyhood.
“When I found the lifeless body of Ginger, my dog and best friend, I rummaged around for a box and lined it with a towel,” said Wilson, now 46. “I found some sticks to make a stand for my makeshift casket so it was visible above ground and then placed green pine straw around the grave.”
When his mother saw her son’s caring memorial to his pet, she took him to the local Dollar Store, where they found a pink cross to mark the beloved dog’s grave.
“When I was in school, our bus would pass the cemetery, and, if I saw people at a gravesite, I would rush home, change out of my school clothes and ride my four-wheeler back to the cemetery,” he said. “There, I would usually find Don White, a funeral director, and, while he was sitting, door open, with his feet outside the car, I literally pummeled him with questions and he patiently answered every one.”
The first of two sons born to Buster and Charlene Wilson, Heath grew to be a man of many talents and many layers, sharing his core – his heart – with his faith, family and funeral service. His birth, however, was complicated, and nothing short of a miracle brought both he and his mother through it.
“I believe I was born with a purpose,” Heath said, and it didn’t take long to figure out what that purpose was, thanks to a few collisions with funeral service along the way.
“In sixth grade, before our school was renovated, Craver’s Funeral Home was having a graveside service. You could see everything happening at the cemetery from my classroom window,” he explained. “I had to sit with my leg under me so I would be tall enough to see out – and I had to tilt my body and sort of turn to be able to watch the funeral. After a second warning from my teacher, she pulled down the shade to make me sit up and pay attention to her rather than to what captured my attention outside.”
No stranger to responsibility and hard work, after his community was flooded in 1972, the 13-year-old Hills was recruited by a family friend to oversee his hardware store and lumber company.
As a boy, Heath continued holding his own last rites for any dead animals he found. Gradually, his services became more authentic. He would play the role of the funeral director, placing the body of the small animal into an empty cigar box.
“My mom has video showing me as minister and funeral director,” he said. “When I was in charge, my cousins served as family, and the video captured me stopping to speak with the family and then dismissing the mourners at the end of the services.”
His first memory of being involved in an actual funeral service came in 1985. “I was 11 years old, and, on the recommendation of someone at my church, was asked to sing at the service of a family friend at Craver’s. He was 38 years old and had been in trucking like my dad.”
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