Funeral Director’s Treatment of the Dead Comforts the Living | Maryland News
By CLARA LONGO DE FREITAS, The Baltimore Sun
BALTIMORE (AP) – As an elementary school student Carlton Douglass had a good understanding of what he wanted to be when he grew up. While most kids wanted to be a scientist, vet, or athlete, he wanted to take a different path.
“I want to be an undertaker,” he said.
“What?” his teacher and his classmates would answer, if not confused, at least surprised.
But some of those long ago classmates, who have become friends with Douglass for decades, will say he’s the only person they know who ended up pursuing exactly what they said he was. ‘they would do like a child.
The funeral director and owner of Carlton C. Douglass Funeral Services in the Gwynn Oak area has been in the business for almost 50 years, with clients from Baltimore, the State of Maryland and beyond. In early August, he was named Professional of the Year by the National Funeral Directors and Morticians Association, a historically black association founded in 1924.
Funeral services are one of the oldest black businesses in the country, said Douglass, a member of the association and president of the Maryland state chapter for 10 years. The black funeral directors started the association because they were not invited to the existing organizations.
Her fascination with funeral services began with her grandmother, who raised a young Douglass at Sparrows Point in the 1950s. When she attended her neighbors’ funerals, she took him with her.
At church and at the funeral home, Douglass would marvel to see the immaculately dressed funeral directors smoothly leading the service.
After attending the University of Maryland Eastern Shore to study sociology, Douglass left for New York City and the American Academy McAllister Institute of Funeral Service, a school for funeral directors and funeral science.
After graduating in 1970, he worked in a Manhattan funeral home before returning to Baltimore, where he learned to interact with grieving families – courtesy and understanding the pain of others is essential, a- he declared.
In Baltimore, he apprenticed at two funeral homes, Herbert E. Nutter and Vernon R. Bailey, where he learned to become a funeral director and learned the embalming process with funeral directors Lamont Thompson. and Joseph H. Brown.
During his nearly 50 years in Baltimore, Douglass oversaw the funerals, with the help of other directors, for his mother, father, two sisters and several friends. Even though it was difficult, it had to be done, he said. His relatives would have wanted no one but him to conduct their funeral, he said.
“You learn that mortality will inevitably occur,” said Douglass. “You just have to prepare. And as a person who believes in God, you just know that with any luck when you pass away you will have a better life.
In April 2020, as the effects of the pandemic began to intensify, Douglass told The Sun that business had not yet increased, but was “just getting started.” Over a year later, he couldn’t say how many people he had embalmed or how many funerals he had organized. But there was “a lot more” than the pre-pandemic years, a lot because of COVID-19.
After receiving a call from a family, Douglass makes an appointment with them to discuss the person. He asks the family what they would like the person to look like. He will often borrow a portrait from them to make sure the deceased looks like them.
The pandemic meant Douglass had to take extra safety precautions, such as using face coverings and personal protective equipment while embalming, he said. But the heaviest toll has been on families, he said, who faced restrictions on the length of service and the number of people who can attend.
During his career, Douglass has stated that he has assisted and conducted the services of several soul and jazz musicians, including David Ruffin, one of the lead vocalists of The Temptations, jazz vibraphonist Lionel Hampton and the “Queen of Soul”. Herself, Aretha Franklin.
Douglass is also a longtime civil and community rights activist. He is currently a member of the executive committee of the Baltimore Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
He expresses his activism through his radio shows, “The Carlton C. Douglass show” on WFBR and “Frank L. Conaway Sr. et-al show” on WOLB with renowned civil rights lawyer Dwight Pettit.
The “Frank L. Conaway Sr. et-al show” focuses on black businesses in the city of Baltimore, historically black colleges and universities, presidential, state and local elections, and social issues.
“He’s very appreciated, very well accepted,” said Pettit. “And I think through the radio show and his success as a businessman, he is one of the leaders of the black community in the city of Baltimore.”
Last year four members of Mary Livingston’s family died, including her mother and brother. She insisted that Douglass prepare the bodies and lead the services, because of his professionalism and compassion, she said.
Douglass goes “above and beyond” to make sure the person she has lost seems like nothing has ever happened to her, Livingston said.
“I always say Carlton will never, ever be a millionaire,” she said. “He will never own a mansion. But you know what, I’m sure there’s a mansion in the sky waiting for her.
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