2013 International Leadership Honorees

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Belgrove Funeral Home, Cemetery, & Crematorium of Trinidad and Tobago

Posted by Elleanor Davis Starks on July 23, 2013

The 2013 BWFS International Leadership Honoree is Belgrove Funeral Home, Cemetery, & Crematorium of Trinidad and Tobago. Celebrating their 125th Anniversary, the company was started by former slave, Mary Jane Belgrove, who was born in St. Lucy, Barbados December 26, 1827. Mary Jane worked as her plantation’s undertaker until emancipation in 1834. Stories of plentiful land in Trinidad led her to this island around 1867 with her three sons in tow. According to Belgrove’s current CEO, Keith Belgrove, there are reports that Mary Jane started her own funeral agency on the corner of St. James and Victoria Streets in San Fernando. What was recorded is the establishment of Belgrove Funeral Home by Mary Jane’s first son, Joseph Belgrove, on August 15, 1888 at Coffee St, San Fernando. The company’s written history noted that helping his mother build coffins taught Joseph about the value of providing excellent service to anyone who lost their loved one.

  Belgrove’s was passed on to its third generation, Joseph’s son, J. Archibald Vondyke Belgrove. He was not as prosperous as his father, being a gambler coupled with poor economic conditions in Trinidad due to the First World War and Great Depression. By the time the economy improved post World War II, Vondyke’s business began to recover and he introduced the first motorized funeral coach to Trinidad.

  In this time of rebuilding, 4th generation visionary Lionel Belgrove saw a lot of room for growth in funeral services. He moved the funeral agency from 88 Coffee Street in 1956 to 107 Coffee Street where it still stands today. He tried expansion and opened a branch in 1968 which was operated by his eldest son, Carlyle, and also branched out to Point Fortin in the late 1960’s and was there until the branch manager fell ill and he was forced to close up shop.

  One of Lionel’s personal causes was the very crude method used for Hindu cremation in those days. Lionel wrote letters to the powers that be and eventually the whole system to obtain a permission permit was simplified. Today there is a very simple system for obtaining permission permit and pioneers like him and activists in the Hindu community were part of that. Lionel also purchased research done by a University in the USA on how cremations were conducted in India. Lionel designed the open coffin that would allow these last rites to be performed. Lionel Belgrove was also known as a champion of the people. He was the first to air-condition his chapels for the comfort of the mourners.

  Keith was allowed to continue his schooling after the age of 12 years although his five elder siblings had to stop at that age to learn the family’s trade. Keith attended the New York Business School between 1970 and 1972, and the McAllister Institute of Funeral Service between 1972 and 1974. He became a licensed funeral director and embalmer holding the highest qualification in funeral service as a Certified Funeral service Practitioner (CFSP) life member.

  Under his direction, Belgrove became the parent company to other businesses catering to the main mission of funeral service. He opened a furniture factory which was operated by his brother Carlyle which now solely creates caskets and coffins catering to Belgrove’s needs.  In the 1980’s Belgrove Funeral Home reopened a branch in Point Fortin and came to Orange Grove in 2001. The same year they reopened in Chaguanas. Within their funeral homes, they set up viewing rooms separate to their chapels so that relatives and friends could have viewing sessions prior to the day of the funeral. Keith created the funeral program that has become a staple in all funeral services today.  Belgrove was the first funeral home to offer bereavement counseling services in Trinidad. Embalming had to be explained. Their innovative nature and pursuit for excellence has resulted in numerous awards and honors locally and internationally. They received the NFDA Eagle Award and this year they will receive the 2013 100 Black Women of Funeral Service – NFDMA International Leadership Award for Excellence in New Orleans, LA.

  The future of the company is in good hands with Keith’s daughter Mercedes, installed as the Assistant CEO. Mercedes Belgrove graduated from Western Washington University with a BA Degree in Finance and Economics in 2001 and received her MBA from Emory University in Atlanta, GA in 2007. She has also studied Bereavement Counseling and the Art of Embalming. Customer service and innovation is what sticks out to her from the company’s rich history so Mercedes is determined to maintain these attributes going forward. “We are doing a whole revamp of technology internally right now because technology is part of everyone’s life. We want to bring funeral services to the point where it is easy and convenient and technologically savvy to fit into people lifestyles.” she explained.

 


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