Posey Provides Light in Families’ Darkest Times
By Gary Kauffman
Construction workers in Graniteville recently unearthed the cornerstone of the original Posey Funeral Home built there more than 130 years ago. It will soon find a resting place in the current Posey Funeral Home on Georgia Avenue in North Augusta.
That discovery serves as a fitting link between the innovation that made Posey the first funeral home in Aiken County and the innovation that makes Posey a national leader in the funeral home industry today.
At the forefront of today’s innovation is Walker Posey, 40, the fourth generation of funeral directors to serve the families of Aiken County. But Posey’s reach extends well beyond the local area – he is the spokesman for the National Funeral Directors Association, called on by national media for information, and speaks at international conferences, most recently in England and China.
It is the people in the CSRA, though, that he remains focused on, carrying on the tradition started by his great-grandfather in 1879.
After being wounded in the Civil War, J.M. Posey settled in Graniteville to work in the mills. But he soon acquired a Singer sewing machine franchise and added a furniture store. As with most furniture store owners at the time, Posey was then asked to build caskets.
Embalming bodies was still an innovative process in those days when Posey asked Joseph Clark, founder of the Cincinnati College of Embalming, to teach him the technique. That led him to build the first funeral home Aiken County.
“We’ve always been innovative,” Walker Posey said.
He had, however, intended to leave the family business to become a lawyer. He had enrolled in Pepperdine University and had moved to California when his grandfather, Dudley Posey, died. What he observed at the funeral changed his career path.
“I saw the impact his life had and I wanted to make the same difference,” Posey said. “I gave up my seat (at Pepperdine) the day before classes started. I’ve dedicated my life to be as skillful as I can be.”
But he sees the funeral business as much more than simply providing embalming and a casket.
“We approach the funeral service as a long-term care proposition,” he said. “It’s not about the actual funeral but helping families deal with grief.”
In his role, Posey wears three hats – part caregiver, part advocate for the families dealing with legalities and part clergy – in addition to the preparation of the body and funeral service.
“People want to know you care, but also that you’re capable,” he said.
Like any other business, success in the funeral business relies on creating a positive customer service experience. Posey seeks that not only for his own customers but works to educate other funeral directors with almost missionary zeal.
“I’ve tried to help funeral homes develop their business acumen and deliver a high level of service,” Posey said. “Everything from how that bottle of water feels when you hand it to them to how you explain where the restroom is. How do we give the most to make these families feel the best? How do we over-deliver their expectations?”
That means keeping up with the changing times. Funerals are becoming less formal, both in the service and the setting. It is no longer unusual to have a funeral service at an outdoor location, for example, or to have a service that has no religious overtones. But that doesn’t mean people take them any less seriously – it may just be the opposite.
“Baby Boomers demand a higher attention to detail,” he said.
That includes after-care programs, like a weekly grief counseling meeting and online resources. Posey recently held a program to help families deal with the holidays following the death of a loved one.
Posey also advocates talking about the funeral before there’s any need for it so that when death inevitably happens, loved ones know how to deal with it.
“It makes that experience an easier conversation to have,” Posey said. “The tag line to our video is, ‘Let’s Talk About it.’ People are seeing that when they talk about it, it helps financially and emotionally. We’re not just dealing with death. We want to be resources for them during their lives.”
Posey’s international travels have given him insights into how other cultures deal with death and helps him focus on innovation.
“I try to be forward thinking of what’s next and what will help families in the future,” he said. “In an industry full of death, we want to produce life, light and a measure of happiness.”
What are you passionate about in your business?
I love knowing I can make a difference in people’s lives. We see families at their worst time. I love the idea that afterwards they can come back and say, “Walker, I couldn’t have done this without you.” That’s the caregiver part of me.
How much work is involved in funeral preparation?
It’s almost the equivalent of doing a wedding in two days. There are a couple of hundred moving parts for each service. A lot goes on behind the scenes that people aren’t aware of – but we don’t want them to be aware of them. I don’t think people understand what it takes to deliver that high level of service.
What else don’t people understand about your business?
A lot of people have the expectation that working in a funeral home is creepy. But the attitudes of the staff have to be upbeat and positive, so it’s really a great work environment.
Do you feel pressure in carrying on a longstanding family business?
I feel a lot of pressure personally to carry on the high standard established by my great-grandfather. But there’s also excitement that every time I serve a family I get to re-establish that connection with them. We have a family we’ve been working with for almost 60 years. I almost feel like a shirt-tail relative. I want to honor our history, I value it, but the reason they call us shouldn’t be because they’ve always called us but because they have confidence in us.
How do you unwind and relax?
I like to travel. I work 60 days in a row, Monday through Sunday, then I take three days and go somewhere. A lot of times I go out of the country. Hopping on an airplane helps me decompress because I can’t be easily reached. I’m on call 24/7; when I’m in town I’m on call all the time. When you have a family business you’re always connected. And I like to play golf.
How do you give back to the community?
There are so many things we support – the American Legion, the Family Y, local churches, first responders. We do a Back the Blue barbecue every year. We sponsor golf tournaments for charity. We’re strategic in how we do that. We support those who give care, for hospice and clergy. It’s not just financially, but a big part of it is actually doing the work. I’m past president of the Rotary and I serve on about 10 boards.
What does the future hold for you and the business?
I hope we continue to expand our reach and grow the number of families we can help. We support families all over the CSRA. I hope my legacy can be that I always try to deliver a high level of service that is meaningful to others.