Joseph Kelly Hobbs Jr. spent more than 30 years in the grim business of burials, but those who knew him say he was anything but somber.
Hobbs, 65, who ran J.K. Hobbs Funeral Home in Versailles and Cunningham Funeral Home in Lexington, died Thursday after a long battle with cancer.
“You wouldn’t think of them being jolly and joyful,” said his wife, Dorenda Hobbs. She said Hobbs was a funeral director who always had a smile on his face, and “everybody loved him for it.”
Dorenda Hobbs said her husband literally grew up in the funeral business.
His father, the late Joseph Kelly Hobbs Sr., spent years building the J.K. Hobbs Funeral Home himself, and the family lived in it.
The elder Hobbs let his son take on the work of a funeral director from a very early age, Dorenda Hobbs said, and he had high hopes of passing the business, which catered to black families, on to him.
As a young man, the younger Hobbs passed up a chance to play for the Cincinnati Reds so as not to disappoint his father, she said.
John Taylor, owner of Hawkins Funeral Home, said he considers it “a great honor” to now handle the arrangements for his longtime competitor and friend, who he said was “one of the great embalmers.”
Taylor said Hobbs had been known to say, “You gotta take care of me if something happens to me.”
The two often talked about difficult cases together and shared a unique bond that comes with having a career built around death.
“Nobody understands us except us,” Taylor said.
Despite his outgoing personality and tendency to joke around, Taylor said, Hobbs was overcome with grief when his father died and struggled to continue running the two funeral homes, which eventually closed.
He said Hobbs was one of the first to call him when his own father, funeral director Walter B. Taylor Sr., died two years ago.
“Don’t give up the ship,” he said Hobbs urged.
Taylor said Hobbs paid great attention to details and always worked to make the deceased person look just right.
“He was always known for giving families the best that he had,” Taylor said. “He took the worry off of their shoulders during the worst time of their lives.”
Hobbs was a graduate of Woodford County High School and the Mid-America College of Funeral Service.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by two sons, Joseph Kelly Hobbs III and Brian Kelly Hobbs, and two daughters, DeShanna Hobbs and JaVita Hobbs.
He was preceded in death by a son, Justin O. Hobbs.