By: Alexa Epitropoulos
The story of McGuire Funeral Service Inc. is one of abrupt changes in life direction, starting with founder Robert McGuire.
McGuire, a pharmacist by trade, decided to open his own funeral home on H Street not long after the turn of the 20th century. Later, his son, Robert Grayson McGuire Jr., decided to go into the family business instead of pursuing a medical degree.
Robert’s son, John McGuire, was waiting on his physical to join the U.S. Park Police in 1972 when his father asked him to help with some of the accounting for the business. John, now principal of the business, hasn’t looked back since.
Four generations of McGuires have built many relationships across its 100 years of operation. As one of the oldest, historically black funeral homes in the D.C. area, they have also created a reputation for themselves.
Although more chains have been moving into what was traditionally the territory of family-owned funeral homes in the last few years, McGuire said there’s still a need for the smaller, community-based operations.
“There’s public recognition that we are a good service for a reasonable price,” John said.
That public recognition has led to widespread demand for McGuire’s services in the area.
“We’ve had the trust to do what is called nowadays ‘high-profile services,’” John said. “I can’t even list the names of the people we’ve served across the country.”
According to The Washington Post, some of those names include civil rights leader Medgar Evers, opera singer Lillian Evanti, educator and activist Nannie Helen Burroughs and Dr. Charles Drew.
It’s a legacy that John, who has been involved in the business since the 1970s, may soon pass on to the next generation, including his son, Jason.
John said he and his wife will be involved in an active role for a few more years and that a decision hasn’t been made on whether the business will be kept in the family.
“I’ve started to wind down a little bit. Our son is involved, and I don’t know if he’s decided this is what he wants to do forever,” he said. “If he decides to do something else, that’s wonderful too.”
John said the funeral home has always focused on pushing for recognition as a group, rather than making one person the face of the firm — another key to the firm’s continued success.
“It’s always been our philosophy, both in our parents’ and our grandparents’ time, that we never want to push individuals,” John said. “One thing I can say about the firm is we’re thankful about the support we’ve gotten.”