First generation funeral directors are fearless. With either none or very little familial connection to a funeral home, stories vary widely as to what initial interest or curiosity eventually evolved into a career. Dinner disruptions, missed family gatherings, working weekends, late nights, and early mornings were not a deterrent in deciding to enter the funeral ministry, but were viewed as a measure of humble devotion to a sacred craft. Being called upon to make arrangements with the family that lost a child or utilizing skills to prepare a loved one involved in a horrific accident are some of the very unique and challenging characteristics of the profession they chose. However, some might argue that the profession itself actually does the choosing.
Kenneth W. Poe is no different. At 68, he still works full time and regularly makes arrangements and directs funerals. “I love the relationships I’ve built and really love helping people. I could never imagine doing anything else,” said Poe, who has been a licensed funeral director for almost four decades.
A storied history of servant leadership, both professionally and and publicly, runs deep within the Poe family. The Charlotte native is a grandson of two Southern Baptist ministers and the son of the late, Mary Virginia and William E. “Bill” Poe, a distinguished attorney, public servant and Christian activist. Three of his brothers are also attorneys.
“My dad, the managing partner at Park-Poe, was a well respected lawyer for many years. He was a former president of the North Carolina Baptist Convention and chairman of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board,” described Poe, who himself is a past President of the North Carolina Funeral Directors Association and a former Policy Board Member of the National Funeral Directors Association. Poe is also a member of Myers Park United Methodist Church where he teaches Sunday School and serves on the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry.
Poe met his wife of 45 years, Joy, when she was a student at Converse University in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He graduated from nearby Wofford College in 1975 with a degree in government and political science and eventually obtained an MBA at East Carolina University.
His early exposure to funeral service was in Farmville, North Carolina, where he worked for his father-in-law, T. Eli Joyner, at Farmville Funeral Home. “In addition to the funeral home, he also owned a furniture store, gift shop, an export business, and a tobacco farm,” Poe explained, crediting Joyner with teaching him how to run a small business.
“In those days, North Carolina required you to serve a year of apprenticeship under a licensed funeral director and to pass the state law test. My wife swore she would never marry a funeral director,” he chuckled.
As many others will undoubtedly attest, working with family can be difficult. “He was an exceptional mentor, but after ten years, I was ready to move closer to home and had my own ideas I wanted to implement. It was the best for both of us for me to leave,” said Poe.
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Southern Calls Issue 34
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