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What I’ve Learned: Elleanor Davis Starks

I always wanted to be a funeral director. The funeral directors that lived down the street from me in Detroit always fascinated me. There were always hearses parked in the driveway and I would sneak up to them to peek inside. My father thought it was a male profession. He encouraged me to be a doctor, lawyer, or teacher. Now, he is since very proud of his daughter, the undertaker.

I love my family. I am totally dedicated to my children and grandchildren. Everything I do is geared toward them. I make sure they have what they need to reach their goals and become self-sufficient. I put family first. ALWAYS.

The line between success and failure is mentorship. We must encourage and help each other become better funeral professionals and people. Mentors help you see the light at the end of the tunnel.  The only way for our profession to survive is to help each other. We all have the same goal – giving our families the best service.

When I first met Catherine A. Payne, I was star struck.  She was the first female president of NFDMA, at a time where there was not a lot of female funeral directors.  Coming from a funeral family, she learned the business as a child and decided to take on a leadership role. She took me under her wing, demonstrated leadership, and expressed involvement. I am forever grateful for that meeting.

I remember visiting the Funeral Service Museum in Houston, Texas. It was attached to Commonwealth Institute of Funeral Services. I was in awe as a professional to see the history of funeral service. I truly urge all of my colleagues to take a visit and learn the history of this wonderful industry. We must always remember where our profession started.

Sometimes it’s hard striving for excellence. We want everything to be perfect, but we don’t live in a perfect world. You have to give 150% and get as close to perfect as possible. It is attainable, but it can be very difficult.

I was raised by the most wonderful, giving and kind mother in the world. Coming from a family of eleven children, she taught us about work ethic, helping others, and giving back when you become successful. I never heard her say one bad word about anyone. I thank her for everything she taught me, and I miss her dearly.

In order to achieve anything you must work hard, be committed and be dedicated.  If not, you will give up. If you are dedicated and want it bad enough, you will achieve it.  You must also be willing to put your pride aside and ask for help. There is ALWAYS someone you can learn from, take advantage.

For the record it is very important that women stand out in this profession. We come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and backgrounds. We should be proud of each other’s successes. Women are some of the best embalmers and funeral directors, and we keep the families coming back.  I am proud of my sisters. If you don’t have a woman in your firm you are missing something really special. Don’t hate.

The best part of my job is being able to set my students up with mentors and scholarships. When they complete their license requirements, it warms my heart. I am so proud of every one of my students.

My favorite phrase is “It’s in the click of my heels, the bend of my hair, the palm of my hand, the need of my care, ‘Cause I’m a woman Phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, that’s me.”- Maya Angelou


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