Funeral Business Advisor sat down with R. Blake Cammack, funeral director and owner of Welch Funeral Home in Longview Texas to learn more about his career, experience in the funeral industry, and what he’s looking forward to in the future.
Was being a funeral director something that you always pictured yourself doing? What inspired you to get into the profession?
I grew up in Longview and attended many funerals with my grandparents as a kid. It felt like I went to every funeral that took place in Longview. However, after high school, I followed a passion of mine which was training Tennessee Walking Horses. I loved working with horses and won numerous world championships however, I soon realized I wasn’t going to be able to support myself on that alone and I started to seriously contemplate becoming a funeral director. I drug my feet a little bit because I didn’t want to have to move to Dallas to attend mortuary college.
Eventually I ended up with a temporary job filling one summer at Loyd James Funeral Home in Tyler, Texas and really got a well rounded idea of what it was like to work in this profession. I soon realized that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I met a funeral director from Longview and we started an embalming service together. My passion for the funeral profession continued to grow and so, I finally decided it was time to go to school. My business partner bought my half of the business and I went off to school at the Dallas Institute.
What is your favorite thing about working in this profession?
I didn’t realize it when I first got into this business, but now that I have been doing this for 12 years, my favorite part is being able to help people through such a difficult time. Every day at work is a different day and every family you encounter is a different family. People grieve differently. Helping families make a tough situation better is what makes this job so rewarding. As funeral directors, we cannot change what has happened, but we can change how people feel and improve the hard time they are going through which ultimately helps them heal faster.
What makes Welch Funeral Home stand out from others? What makes it unique?
When I graduated from mortuary school, I moved back to Longview and purchased the embalming service. For the 6 years that I had it, I worked for a lot of local funeral homes which gave me the opportunity to look at purchasing a few different funeral homes at that time. Ultimately, I was able to purchase Welch Funeral Home – which is the oldest funeral home in our county and a place I have been familiar with my entire life.
The Welch Family had built a new facility 20 years ago that was designed by J. Stuart Todd and our building is still one of the most unique things about our business. We have an atrium in the middle of the building with a glass ceiling and we use that room for visitations. We put the casket in the middle of the room and personalize the room to show all aspects of the person’s life.
We are a Life Celebration funeral home and being part of that network has really opened our eyes and taught us to think outside of the box. We had always been a forward thinking funeral home and that is what lead us to Life Celebration, but since we joined the network, we have gotten so much better at staging, personalization, and coming up with great ideas. Life Celebration has really helped push us to our full potential.
How are you involved in your community?
This is going to be a long answer. as my staff and I are involved in everything that we can be. My family has a long history of community involvement so it is something that has been ingrained in me from a very young age.
I recently started a community giving program here at the funeral home called Cammack Cares. It is all encompassing, and we sponsor as many of the local charitable events that we are able to. We donate our time and money wherever it is needed to help within the community. The biggest part of “Cammack Cares” is our Cowboy Cadillac Limousine. Last fall we purchased a limousine and wrapped it in the Texas flag vinyl that also has Texas themed images. We topped it off with a cow hide interior and Texas Longhorns on the hood. We donate the limo to community organizations, non-profits, and schools, that are wanting to raise money or reward their students. It’s a fun way to connect to our community and give back. When I first pitched the idea of the limo, everyone thought I was truly nuts, but in the short time that we have had it – we’ve been able to raise money for a few community organizations and it’s had great feedback. It’s just a fun part of who we are – people even stop by to take pictures with the car at our funeral home.
Personally, I am member of the Masonic Lodge here in Longview and am the third member of family to be a mason. I am also a very active member of the Rotary Club of Longview where I sit on the board as the Public Relations Director and help oversee our largest fundraiser. I also sit on the board for the Kilgore College Foundation. Community service goes hand in hand with working at Welch Funeral Home. My staff is involved in many different civic organizations as well. As a funeral home, my staff and I try to be involved with our community as much as we possibly can.
What are you most proud of in your career so far?
I have had a lot of highlights in the 12 years that I have been doing this, and I hate to sound like a broken record, but the most stand out moment – happens quite frequently. I am proud that I get to help people every single day. When a grief-stricken family comes in and then we are able to take a disastrous moment in their life and turn it into a moment of happy remembrance and smiles – that is what I take the most pride in. That happens all the time. I love that we can surprise families with services and Life Celebrations that are better than they could have ever imagined. I am grateful that I get to help our families turn a dark time into a brighter time.
What do you feel is the biggest factor in your success as a funeral director and a funeral home?
The single biggest contributing factor to our success and growth as a funeral home is being able to think outside of the box as well as providing a personalized experience for every family. When I first bought the funeral home, the services here were very traditional and the business was maintaining, but it wasn’t growing. I had big ideas for things I wanted to change. I knew my vision for personalized services would help us grow our business and it has. Our Garden Court visitations are like nothing you have ever been to. We have 6 flat screen tvs all around the room and the glass ceiling is a very nice touch. When you combine that with all of the other personalization that we provide, you get a funeral experience second to none.
The funeral industry is ever-changing and if you aren’t willing to change, you will be left behind. For me, I don’t want to just embrace trends – I want to be the one setting them. Sometimes people think I am crazy – even my own family – but I am willing to prove them wrong and so far it has worked. FBA