The countertops are filled with store-bought containers of croissants and fruit salad. Boddie's wife, Vakeisha, is combing her young daughter's hair into braids.

"You look beautiful," Beckwith says. He takes Vakeisha by the shoulders and hugs her. She manages a weak smile. Beckwith says he'll be back in 10 minutes, and then they'll pray and depart for the church.

Outside, Beckwith joins the limo driver and motorcycle escort driver, who are standing just inside the garage and out of the rain. "Normally when we arrive they realize, 'OK, this is really happening,'" Beckwith says, explaining why he gave Vakeisha the 10-minute warning. "When we arrive, the reality really hits them that it's time to go, that this is a funeral."

Mark Graham


Video Extra: John Beckwith Jr. and Golden Gate Funeral Home's staff at work during a funeral.

Web Extra: Take a look inside Golden Gate Funeral Home's morgue.

Ten minutes are up, and Beckwith returns to gather the family in a circle for prayer. Then he drives ahead of the nine cars in the procession, purposely driving 10 miles below the speed limit. He frequently checks his rearview mirror to make sure all nine cars are behind him.

He pulls up to St. John's Baptist Church in Grand Prairie. About 50 family members line up in the entrance under a giant, globe-shaped chandelier. The guests watch as Beckwith directs the family to their seats in the front pews, which have been left vacant. There's an enlarged photo of Boddie at the front under the pulpit. Beckwith and his staff, having completed their tasks for now, have about an hour to pass.

Davis had been a business major in college before attending the historically black, and now closed, Bishop College to become a pastor. At the same time he began his ministry he started working with Golden Gate as a business consultant.

"John Sr. was running the day-to-day, as well as teaching me the ins and outs of the operations of the business side of it," Davis explained days earlier, before entering the morgue to see Boddie. "And I was using my expertise to win the heart and the support of the pastors and churches in the city...From then on we've been knitted together."

Davis was an influential member of the black spiritual community already, having held many positions of leadership within the Baptist denomination. He and Beckwith Sr. were a natural team and spoke every morning and night about the funeral business. The community now saw Davis' face linked with Golden Gate, and the funeral business started to pick up, going from about 200 cases annually to 1,000 by the early '90s, after the home moved to a bigger location on Cedar Crest Boulevard.

Similarly, Davis, who began preaching at a church with 166 members, leads a flock that boasts 12,000 members from 37 cities.

Beckwith Jr. has continued to focus the community's attention on Golden Gate's spiritual side. During both the radio and television program Ask the Undertaker, Beckwith makes sure to connect funeral services to the Bible and back to Golden Gate.

On set at the television show in July, they discussed the book of Genesis. They read from a passage to show that Joseph made burial plans before he died. Therefore, prearranging services is in the Bible, and Golden Gate offers "pre-need" services. The group on camera—Beckwith Jr., a minister and two pre-need insurance salespersons—nodded and Beckwith said, "There's nothing new under the sun."

The marketing strategy works too. The day before Golden Gate prepared Boddie for his funeral, a woman came in to Golden Gate to buy pre-need insurance. Her family had used Golden Gate as their funeral home for many years, and she was starting to hear her fellow church members talk about pre-need. Then she heard Golden Gate on the radio and agreed. An employee guided the woman to another room where caskets are displayed. "Other people in the community are talking about pre-need," she said as she browsed. "They are one of the most talked-about funeral homes in the community I come from. Always very lovely and professional."

Before she left, she asked the staff to see Beckwith Jr. himself. She was led inside his office, and he stood and came over to hold her hand as she spoke. "I've been hearing you all advertising on the radio," she said. "I think that is beautiful how you all do that."


At Boddie's funeral, Davis is coming to the emotional climax of his sermon. He has a young face and is dressed in black silk pastoral garb. He tells his listeners that Boddie, a landscaper, worked at Davis' home every day the week before he died. There are large screens raised high above the pastor to project his image to people sitting in the far back pews. The scent of incense lingers.

"When I think about the life of Granville, I think about the Word," Davis says. "'He maketh me to lie down...' Granville was a hard worker. Maybe God is saying, 'I'm making Granville lie down. I'm making Granville take a rest.'"

A woman in one of the front rows stands and sways to his words. "Oh, he went to sleep on this side, but he's going to wake up on the other side," Davis says.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help