Foster Wiley is a traditionalist at heart.
He wears a suit to work every day. He still carries a pager, even though he does own a cell phone. He leaves the premises of Curtis Funeral Home at the end of every day, but he is on duty around the clock, seven days a week. He sees no need to build a newer facility; he’s happy in the 107-year-old home that has been the facility since 1937.
Traditions have always been important to Wiley and his family, he said.
They are also important for many area families. Those traditions bring comfort when they are faced with one of life’s most difficult situations: the death of a loved one.
“Very seldom does our funeral home change,” he said.
While certain things, such as technology, must change to keep up with the times, the methods that Wiley uses haven’t changed in 147 years.
Curtis Funeral Home was founded in 1865 by John Curtis, a Southern sympathizer from New Jersey who settled in Thomson after the Civil War.
Curtis’ son Alexander took over the business after him. Then two of Alexander’s sons – John David Curtis and Charlie Curtis – came into the family business.
Both were funeral directors and ran the home together until John David left to become manager of Platt’s Funeral Home in Augusta. Charlie continued the family business with his wife, Macie, until his death in 1938.
“If it wasn’t for Aunt Macie, we probably wouldn’t exist,” Wylie said.
Macie ran the business at a time when women did not do such things. She employed male managers to help her and kept the legacy alive.
She also lived in the funeral home. Until the mid-1980s, the current office was her bedroom, Wylie said. It was common then for funeral directors to live on-site.
“She kept it going after Uncle Charlie died just by being a good businesswoman,” Wylie said. For that reason, Wylie hung her portrait on a prominent wall in the foyer by itself.
Wylie’s father and Macie’s nephew, Buddy Wiley, took over in 1947, and Wylie joined him in 1977.
He said he wasn’t sure at first he’d enjoy the work, but he fell in love with it.
It’s strange to hear Wiley say he enjoys his job because death is rarely a joyful time. While he doesn’t enjoy the pain that brings his clients to him, he does enjoy serving them through their time of great need.
“There’s a satisfaction to it that you can’t describe,” he said. “It’s helping people. I can’t find the words to tell you, but that’s what I enjoy about it. The serving part of it.”
Wylie said he isn’t sure what the future holds for the funeral home. His son and nephews have pursued other career interests and are not expected to come into the family business. He said he might have a potential successor in fellow funeral director John Ansley, but even if the business continues under the Curtis name, the family connection will likely be lost.
“I’m basically the end of it,” he said. “Hopefully John will eventually take it over, but as far as family, I’m it.”