By Megan Sayles
AFRO Business Writer

The AFRO took time to honor the  “Unsung Heroes” of the COVID-19 pandemic at Valley Mansion by Martin’s on Aug. 6. The media company commended morticians for the critical and often under recognized role they played in helping families navigate the loss of a loved one during a global pandemic. 

The awardees included Joseph H. Brown Jr. Funeral Home, Chatman-Harris Funeral Home and the Hari P. Close Funeral Service. Carlton C. Douglass Funeral Service, Estep Brothers Funeral Service and Howell Funeral Home, March Funeral Homes, Gary P. March Funeral Homes were also honored, along with James A. Morton and Sons Funeral Homes. Redd Funeral Services, Vaughn Greene Funeral Services, John L. Williams Funeral Directors and Wylie Funeral Homes were also recognized for their selfless service. 

“We see you, we thank God for you and we thank you for the service that you render,” said Francis Toni Draper, publisher of the AFRO. “This is just an appreciation to say how much we honor and recognize the sacrifices that you make everyday—knowing though that it was really difficult during COVID.” 

Hari P. Close, founder of Hari P. Close Funeral Service, said his caseload nearly tripled during the pandemic. The boutique funeral home went from serving 350 families a year to upwards of 1,000. 

In order to reduce his staff’s exposure to the disease, Close took over all of the embalming. 

“I’m humbled and grateful at the same time. I think many times people forget that we are the last line of defense for our community and the last line of the healthcare system. We protect our community,” said Close. “For us, today is like a reunion because we’re seeing all of these pillars who’ve paved the way and then we’re seeing the next generation.” 

One of the new generation members who attended the event was Carmalita March-Harris. She is the daughter of March Funeral Homes CEO, Victor March, and granddaughter of the late founders, William Carrington March and Julia Roberta March. 

March-Harris accepted the award on behalf of her family—many of whom have recently fallen sick with COVID-19 after returning from summer vacations. 

“Let’s continue to be vigilant. I know we would really love to let our guards down, I speak for all of us when I say, I believe we have PTSD,” said March-Harris, funeral director at March Funeral Homes. “These were trying times. Not only did we fear for ourselves, but we feared for the families we returned home to.” 

She thanked her husband, as well as other funeral directors’ children and spouses who feared for the health of their family members while they served on the frontlines of the disease. 

“We will make it through, so let’s stay encouraged, but let’s be vigilant because we’re not out of the woods yet,” said March-Harris. “I love you all. I know what you all have been through. We will be OK.” 

Albert P. Wylie, founder of Wylie Funeral Homes, highlighted the support that Baltimore’s Black funeral homes provide to each other. He spoke on how each business steps in to provide supplies, services and resources when another business encounters obstacles. 

“No one can help us but us,” said Wylie. “It’s imperative that we continue to stick together and be unsung heroes.”

Megan Sayles is a Report For America corps member. 

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