When you meet veteran funeral director Jerry Griffey, you are struck by his soft Southern drawl and the pride he takes – and has always taken – in serving as a funeral director for the families in his hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee. Although Jerry retired several years ago, it’s no surprise families still call on him to shepherd them through funeral services.
The 85-year-old Knoxville director, who will be honored for his more than half-century of service at the Tennessee Funeral Directors Association annual convention this summer, was born in Jefferson City, Tennessee. His mother died when he was 3 months old, and his grandparents stepped in to raise him … which is how he arrived in Knoxville.
Being an eager kid, Jerry – who never met a stranger – began mowing the lawn of his friend’s father’s funeral home for $10 a week.
“My friend, Fred Berry Jr., and I had a lot of fun growing up together, and his dad, Fred Berry, took me under his wing,” Griffey said. “He was a wonderful man and was very good to me.”
As a student attending Fulton High School in Knoxville, Jerry was a band captain and also enjoyed neighborhood athletics. Giving in to his entrepreneurial spirit, the youngster also formed a dance band, playing his trombone and finding regular gigs at dances for the local Episcopal Church and also at the state mental hospital.
As he and Fred Jr. became old enough to drive – funeral vehicles as well as ambulances – he continued to work for Mr. Berry, staying at the funeral home every third night to make removals and answer ambulance calls. In the interim, he worked funerals and was mentored by Mr. Berry in all aspects of funeral service and taking care of families.
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