- Death Your Way:Reflections of a Southern Undertaker
Steve Holland has been in the funeral business over four decades in northeast Mississippi. A Democrat, he has served thirty-two years in the Mississippi House of Representatives. He received undergraduate degrees from Northeast Mississippi Community College and Mississippi State University, and he earned a master’s degree in Southern studies from The University of Mississippi. The interview took place on July 10, 2015, at Barnard Observatory on The University of Mississippi campus in Oxford.
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Let’s start with some basic information. How did you become a funeral director? Has it been a family business?
No not at all. As a matter of fact, I must have been a sophomore, maybe a junior in high school when they give you these little occupation tests, I guess you could call it. I had grown up on a huge farm in the Appalachian hills in Robert E. Lee County in northeast Mississippi. We farmed in four counties. And Dad wanted all six of his boys to be farmers, and by the time I was a junior in high school, I had had enough of that crap.
And I knew I wanted to be something else. I thought I wanted to be a doctor, but low and behold, I took one of these tests and it said I would be a wonderful undertaker, Southern undertaker. And it freaked me out.
So that’s not exactly how I got into it. I didn’t inherit the funeral home. Dad was a real chancy sort of fellow and had a fellow to loan him enough money to buy an 800-acre farm. And by the time he retired at age sixty-five, about twenty-two years ago, that farm was 12,000 acres and we raised Black Angus cattle, corn, cotton, soybeans, and wheat on that farm. He had really made a lot of money, unbeknownst to me early on in life. So by the time I was in high school, Dad was pretty wealthy.
He had purchased an interest in a stock-held funeral home, a start-up held funeral home, in 1966. When I got out of high school in 1973, I had already revolted, quite frankly, and sort of left home during high school because I got pissed off at him because he didn’t let me participate in some of the extra-curricular activities that I thought I should to make me a well-rounded high school kid, because he’d rather me be hauling hay or slopping the hogs or plowing soybeans or picking cotton. So he realized that he wasn’t going to win that battle, and he had purchased about twenty percent of the stock in this particular funeral home but had never laid foot in it. It was a mere investment on his part. McGrath-Rasberry Funeral Home. Red Rasberry had been the chancery clerk of Lee County for about twenty-four years and Tom McGrath was the undertaker, a man out of Jackson, Tennessee, originally who had come down and worked for one of the old funeral homes there that had wanted to go out of business. So the old Spain Funeral Home became the McGrath-Rasberry Funeral Home and the owners went to the west side of Tupelo and built (at that time in the 1960s) a very modern funeral home.
Dad walks in and says, “If you don’t want to work on the farm anymore I’ve got a job for you at the funeral home.”
And I said, “The hell you say. I’ve never even seen a dead body. I don’t think I want to work at the funeral home, and I’m just going to do something else.” I’d been working at a hardware store in Nettleton, a building supply and hardware store. So I went from that and went to start to work on the fourteenth day of May 1973, at that funeral home. [End Page 243]
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