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A Life in the Death Business

Hollis Peel

People are dying to do business with Gunter and Peel Funeral Home in Columbus.
The 46-year-old director, Hollis Knight Peel, has spent his life in the business, 24 years of which he has spent in Columbus.
Peel got into the occupation due to family ties. Both his father and grandfather were in the industry, and Peel started work at Wilson and Knight Funeral Home in Greenwood when he was 18 years old. His grandfather, Hollis Knight, started the family legacy and was affiliated with 12 funeral homes, including Gunter and Peel Funeral Home in Columbus.
While some people might be uncomfortable around the dead, for Peel it seems normal. His grandparents lived above the funeral home, and Peel often tagged along with his father who was also employed there.
“I’ve grown up in the funeral home environment for sure,” said Peel. “We used to play hide and seek in the chapel. One of us would turn on the sound system and get the mic out.
“My childhood and my raising seemed to be similar to any other kid I knew,“ he continued. “We were all growing up in a time where dads, for the most part, worked and my dad worked at the funeral home. I felt like we were more fortunate than most families.“
As a funeral director, Peel helps families make funeral arrangements as well as performing duties of running the business like accounts payable and recievable, inventory and servicing company vehicles.
He holds a Business Administration degree from the University of Mississippi and a Applied Science Degree in Mortuary Science. The latter of which qualifies him to do embalming and preparation of remains.
“I worked for nine years (1988-1997) and then decided to go to mortuary school so I could become fully licensed. A full funeral service license combines funeral service and embalming… I saw that i was too young and too healthy to not try to take on the embalming side.“
While having been a licensed funeral director since he was 18, Peel said he decided to further his education to become more independent.“
“One of the reasons, if not the biggest reason is because I don’t like to be dependant on anyone in this business to do the work that needs to be done. So I had a business degree, but still had to have a fully licensed embalmer to do that kind of work.
“Columbus will always be an enviroment where the more hats you can put on, and the more skills you have, the more successful you will be in the long run.“
It doesn’t bother Peel to work with human remains. “I just click into a mode of what I have to do. (It’s) the same way I’m sure a doctor or a surgeon (must) to perform surgery. I have to do the same thing to perform an adaquete embalming job,“ he said. “With the actual embalming, there aren’t any emotions involved. There are emotions when I make arrangements or perform funerals.“
Peel said he also really likes the work. “I enjoy the embalming,“ he said. “There‘s an accomplishment there. When I hear ‘Momma looks 20 yeas younger,‘ or ‘Daddy doesn’t look like he’s suffering anymore‘…
“Embalming restores peoples natural expressions, it can be very gratifying to provide a memory picture for family members at the end thats positive,“ he said.
In addition making the deceased look their best at their funerals, Peel also says he prizes the connections he makes with the families of the deceased while helping them make the arrangements.
“When I meet with the families and feel their grief, I… want to help and make things as easy as possible throughout the funeral process. I develop a relationship with them,“ he said. “I’m there with them when they come back to view the body for the first time, I’m with them during the funeral and I’m with them when they say goodbye at the cemetery. It‘s a relationship that you build in a short time frame.“
Peel said that he develops caring feelings about his customers and tries to make the process as easy as he can for them.
“I am an arrangements counselor, if someone is upset, I try to be a person that they know that they can count on. Once they get to know me a little bit, I want them to feel a warmth.. that it‘s okay and that we’ll get through this tougether. Every funeral director has his own style, but that‘s mine.“
Though Peel says most of his arrangement conferences aren’t with people that are too grief-stricken to make the decisions. Many if not most of the deaths were expected due to age or disease. He said about 70 percent of people are doing fine and able to make decisions. There are situations where the death was unexpected and it is harder to make arrangements.
“Momma is 48 and had a heart attack…everyone is lost, emotions are at their highest with sadness and anger,“ said Peel. “But you still have to meet with them and try to make yourself approachable and available so you can start to guide them at their pace to make decisions. A lot of times there is a uncle or neighbor who understands that certain things have to be done and helps make arrangements.“
Peel is married to Leslie Peel. They have two children, Lawson, 19, and and Hayden, 16. Neither young men wish to take after their father with their careers. Peel is also the youngest of three children, and neither his brother nor his sister are in the business.
In May of 2009 Gunter and Peel was sold to Memorial Funeral Home and the two were merged into one operation. Peel and Craig Summerford are both Co-Managers, but generally operate out of seperate facilities.
While Peel said he has occassionally considered going into other fields of work, he’s never been serious about leaving the trade. “I knew that the work was a good, family oriented profession. I’ve always felt like it would be a good fit for me,“ he said.
“Every profession has its good and bad points, but overall, I’m extreamly thankful to God that he allowed me to be a funeral director.“

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7 comments

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  3. MoralActivist

    Sarah, Sarah, Sarah. You’re killin’ me! Can’t you put a little more effort into your work? Seriously, your literature while maybe adequate for those out there in the country, are well. Just isn’t up to par with us, you know, city folk. I do take care in the information you and your associates pass along, but the manner in your presentations. It just needs a little filtering. Take a look at some of those big metropolitan laureates see if they can provide you some improvement. Please don’t be offended dear, I’m just a concerned citizen asking for your consideration and hopefully assisting in you a successful career.

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  5. New Hope Band

    Judging by how poorly written your post is, I don’t think you could assist even a little old lady across the street, much less in anything Sarah does.
    And just what city are we talking about here? Must be one of those up North where the teachers are always on strike in the schools.

    • MoralActivist

      @New Hope Band, is that the best you can do? You started a new post rather than replying to mine. Now have you been smoking a little something that might cloud your judgement? You’ve lowered you standards to that of a fifth grader. (Smiles) But allow me to apologize to all the fifth graders, I’m sure they know better. And let we use your words “I don’t think you could”, that’s right, “You, don’t think”! You just react without “thinking” about a proper response. And just what do you mean “in anything Sarah does”? Explain yourself child. Maybe if you could recognize or were maybe even able to at least comprehend what was written you might have been able to come up with a reasonable response. Oh, boy, I’m “bustin’ a gut” reading your silly remark about “what city”, wah-hoo. Why are you even asking about “what city”? And to top that off, you try to insinuate “Must be one of those up North”. One of those up North what? “Where teachers are always on strike in those schools”. You don’t know much about history or have any “word meaning skills”. “Always” means “at all times”. Now you and I both know teachers aren’t always on strike and especially “in schools”. But, You just may know more than me! Oh, help me up of the floor, here. Whew, oh, let me get a tissue so I can dry my eyes (I’m laughin’ so hard, ooooh weee). Maybe you meant to say “on strike “at” schools”. I’ll let that one slide, Oh, my, my, my. I hope you don’t tell anyone about this, I’d certainly be embarrassed too! Don’t take this too hard, just pay a little more attention while you’re in English class and do, try to get a proper education. And as they sad way back when I was in school, “Theres No Hope for New Hope”. “Go Bobcats”

  6. MoralActivist

    @ New Hope Band, You are really making some serious accusations of which you really should refrain from. Why do you choose such vulgar words and such immature insults. Oh, you’re so entertaining! You know, I went to school with students of your caliber. They thought they knew everything yet still lacked any sense of coherence when attempting to express their thoughts. And it also reflected on their behavior. But I’d like to thank you in being such a dunce, now take your racially prejudice thoughts back out to the playground until you can come back here with some better verbal assaults.

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