Funeral director achieves lifelong dream

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 21, 2002

As a child, Vanessa Harris would spend hours sitting on her grandmother’s porch watching funeral processions pass along Saratoga Street.

&uot;Even growing up, I always wanted to work for a funeral home,&uot; said Harris, a licensed funeral director and embalmer who spent more than 20 years working for several local funeral homes. She also spent several years as an administrator for the city-owned cemeteries in Norfolk.

Although she has worked as a Suffolk teacher for the past decade, Harris labored to turn a dream of owning her own funeral home into a reality. This finally happened on Dec. 1 when Harris Funeral Home opened at 685 Carolina Road.

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&uot;It’s something I have always wanted to do,&uot; said Harris. &uot;I’ve always loved being a part of funeral services. There is a lot of respect behind funerals.

&uot;…For me, it is rewarding because I can ease the burdens other people are carrying.&uot;

In addition to helping the family plan the funeral, Harris said, she would also be on hand to help with any grief counseling issues and to help relatives fill out any necessary paperwork.

After the first of the year she plans to begin offering workshops and seminars that will assist the elderly and children.

Her years as an educator and coach have underscored the importance of motivational programs for youth. In recent years, Harris has taken some of her teams and classes to see professional ball games and to meet the cast of the ’90s hit television comedy, &uot;Fresh Prince of Bel Air.&uot;

&uot;Things like that help motivate these kids and keep them on track for success,&uot; she said.

Name? Vanessa Harris.

Hometown? Suffolk.

Parents? Mother, Alice Harris; father, the late Alexander Harris.

Education? John F. Kennedy High School, Elizabeth City State University, music education; Norfolk State University, general education; and Gupton-Jones College of Mortuary Science, Atlanta.

Career/occupation? Funeral director and embalmer, school teacher, notary, musician and coach.

Volunteer activities? Music teacher, drill team coach, boys step team coach, girls’ and boys’ basketball coach, drama coach, a cappella singing director, children’s magic performer, pompom coach.

Favorite thing about Suffolk? People are friendly. Small community life.

Why did you pursue your chosen career? I have always liked to help people.

Favorite thing about my job? Funeral service has provided me with an opportunity to help people, not only at the time of death but with the aftercare. I’m also able to provide counseling and assist families with filing forms and informing them of other benefits that may be available.

Teaching provides the opportunity of continued learning, not just through academics but also through interaction with the students. They keep me alert. Being able to relate to them in their world helps me understand what they feel so I can help give them guidance to a positive outlook for the future. They keep me in touch with the real world.

Least favorite? I have none.

What accomplishments are you proud of? I am proud of the students that I have taught who have gone on to college and have returned to say I made a difference. I am also proud of the of the Cobra Step Team and the Supersonics Drill Tam, which in 1998 won 9 out of 11 trophies in Hershey, Pa., for their performance in drill, step and pompom. I was informed that no other school has ever won that many trophies in one competition.

Also, as a musician, I have been able to travel with the Roc-Kays band and played background music with some of the favorites, including Tyrone Davis and Candi Staton.

Who or what motivates and inspires you? My family and my church family, along with all of the people and senior citizens, mold my life and inspire me because they are always positive and have an abundance of wisdom that continues to help me grow. My motivation comes from my personal relationship with my divine director who guides my life.

Favorite ways to spend free time? Playing music; playing with my dog, Snow; or just relaxing with a few close friends, family and my god children.

What words of wisdom would you like to share with others? Never judge or throw stones and have faith and show love to all mankind. We were all created for a reason and we all have a purpose. We will all take a different journey during our lifetime but we were all born from love. Spread love! Faith and love can move mountains.

What ingredients are in the recipe for a good life? Good family foundation, patience, spiritual faith, high self-esteem, a positive outlook, and laughter.

We all have our 15 minutes of fame in this life. How would you spend your time in the spotlight? As Harris Funeral Home, I will make every family that we serve receives professional dignity and respect. We will serve the community through sponsoring workshops and other programs beginning in the new year.

Personally, I would go on national television with a program to help provide funds to assist in helping the elderly and disabled with funds to relieve their financial burden, such as food assistance and free health coverage. I believe that the elderly made it possible through their hard work and struggles for me to be where I am today. Their faith, hard work and persistence have helped me.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? I wouldn’t change anything because I was created to be who I am. I am not perfect and I learn and grow every day to be a better person.