Henry Peebles always on duty

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 17, 2004

Editor’s note: &uot;At random&uot; is a new feature of the Suffolk News-Herald. The staff interviews residents contacted by either picking their names out a telephone book or when they come to the office. If you are interested in being featured, contact Managing Editor Stephen H. Cowles at 934-9613 or stephen.cowles@suffolknewsherald.com

By Stephen H. Cowles

Suffolk News-Herald

Email newsletter signup

To look at Henry Lee Jackerson Peebles, you probably wouldn’t think he is 71.

&uot;I don’t feel it,&uot; he might respond matter-of-factly to your surprise at the news.

Maybe that’s because he measures time differently than you or me. Somehow, Peebles said, he manages to squeeze 25 hours of work into his 24-hour day.

Perhaps his work as owner of Peebles Funeral Home keeps him from noticing the years slipping past.

&uot;It’s time-consuming,&uot; Peebles said. &uot;I’m on call all the time…I can take maybe two or three days at a time, not a whole week.

&uot;Actually, I have two men now (Elwood M. Jordan III and Steven G. Felton), so I could cut back if I wanted. They’re fully licensed. I’ll have a third man later on (Kenneth B. Austin) along with my daughter.&uot;

His daughter, Rhonda Peebles-Holland, is in mortuary school and finishes this May. She already has a master’s degree in nursing, and works as a case manager in Sentara Norfolk General Hospital’s corporate office.

&uot;It surprised me that she wanted to follow in my footsteps,&uot; he said.

His son, Rodney K. Peebles, helps out by keeping the office when he’s away.

Parent-to-child is a familiar trend in operating funeral homes, at least in Peeble’s family. His father, John H. Boykin, and his uncle, used to be part of the Crocker and Boykin Funeral Home. But in the 1930s, &uot;my daddy pulled out and he and his brother started their own.&uot;

After graduating from Nansemond County Training in 1949, Peebles (his mother was Katie A. Peebles) came to Suffolk to work at his father’s funeral home. At that time, the funeral home was at the corner of East Washington and Cullodan.

&uot;I left and went into service from 1953 to 1955 to fight in the Korean War,&uot; said Peebles. He added that he remembers crossing the Han River at Inchon in North Korea, by the way.

&uot;Then I came back in May 1955, and went to Echol’s College of Mortuary Science in Philadelphia in September 1955, and graduated in June 1956.&uot;

Peebles served a two-year apprenticeship for Pretlow Funeral Home in Norfolk, and was asked to stay an extra year. After that, he was hired to embalm by six different funeral homes.

In 1965, Peebles took out a loan through the Small Business Administration and opened his own funeral home at 1016 E. Washington St.

Working in a funeral home is not for everyone, he said.

&uot;It’s got to be something that you love,&uot; Peebles said. &uot;It’s not just a job.

&uot;You’ve got to love people, and get along with everybody.&uot;

When he’s not working Peebles enjoys fishing and hunting. At one time, he and four cronies owned 30 hunting dogs.

Peebles, a member and trustee at Tabernacle Christian Church, belongs to the Virginia Funeral Directors Association and the Norfolk Funeral Directors and Embalmers Association.