Convention(AL) Wisdom

Well, it’s back again. And chances are, you don’t even know about it. Nope, it’s not the Fair. And it’s too early for the Miss Virginia Pageant. And Festival in the Park has been over with for weeks. The big event I speak of is the Virginia Funeral Directors Association convention and annual meeting. While this is probably not a big deal to you, it certainly is for the many exhibitors, speakers, and funeral directors attending each and every summer.

In previous decades, this event was calling Roanoke home every third year, with Richmond and Virginia Beach being the other locales. Now however, our community only sees the VFDA assemble in Roanoke every five or six years. And while we used to use the Roanoke Civic Center (I refuse to call it “Berglund Center”, just as I still call Macy’s “Thalheimer’s” and Billy’s “Billy’s Ritz”) as the site of the exhibits, the convention has downsized considerably and is able to squeeze everything into Hotel Roanoke.

A casual passerby on Wells Avenue may have thought there was a mass casualty nearby: hearses, embalming fluid trucks, and morticians from all over the state were teaming around the hotel. Inside, vendors had register books of any size, shape and color. Want a purple and gold urn? No problem! How about a limousine the size of a bus? Got one right here, sir!

Sure there are classes, seminars, exhibitions, and banquets at this gathering. But many will agree that the best part of the VFDA Annual Meeting is the fellowship and renewal of friendships every June. Seeing colleagues you respect and admire is always an uplifting time, and when you’ve known many of these men and women for over thirty years, it makes the reunion seem that much more special.

My forefathers at Oakey’s did a wonderful job fostering good relations with funeral homes across the state, and I consider it my duty to continue the legacy and pass it along to MY son. I have always enjoyed attending meetings of VFDA, IFHV (Independent Funeral Homes of Virginia), SIFH (Selected Independent Funeral Homes), a study group I am a member of, and the local Blue Ridge Funeral Directors Association. I consider every person in these organizations a friend.

Looking back over my first conventions in the 1970’s, I can honestly say that my goal was to “hit” every exhibitor’s booth and take away as many of the free novelties and advertising specialties as I could lay my greedy little hands upon. This was made much easier by the exhibitors who gave out large bags to tote around all the freebies! And while I still enjoy reaping the dividends of the cool handouts which funeral-related businesses give out, I now know there are more important things to do than to see how many flashlights, ink pens, and yardsticks I can accumulate.

The joy of seeing the faces of colleagues I truly love surely trumps obtaining another note pad! The only “down” part of convention week is remembering the funeral folks that have either retired, passed away, or are no longer in our profession. I was able to chat with a vendor yesterday that was the fifth generation of his family to sell funeral items!

Sam Oakey attending the June 2015 VFDA Annual Meeting in Roanoke, VA
Sam Oakey attending the June 2015 VFDA Annual Meeting in Roanoke, VA

Having a son who graduated from college just six weeks ago and has begun his apprenticeship (nope, I won’t call it by its updated term, “internship”) made this week’s convention even more special. Sunday night we dined with a funeral home owner and her apprentice at a downtown eatery, and then Monday night we were the guests at the supper of a casket supplier. Young Sam even played in the VFDA golf tournament earlier in the week. So strolling with him through the Exhibit Hall and introducing him to folks who were friends of MY father and grandfather was a pretty special moment. And no, I didn’t cry!