Doug Ferguson marking 60-year milestone as funeral director

Eric McCarthy
Published on August 14, 2013

Doug Ferguson takes a moment to reflect during one of his daily visits to Ferguson’s Funeral Home and Chapel in O’Leary. He has been in the funeral director business for 60 years. An open house in celebration of the milestone will be held this Saturday.

Eric McCarthy/Journal Pioneer

O’LEARY -- Change continues to happen in the funeral home business but, for Doug Ferguson, founder of Ferguson’s Funeral Homes in O’Leary and Tyne Valley, the one thing that doesn’t change is the personal touch.

“Our phone is always answered,” he said. “A familiar voice is always good at that time.”

Doug Ferguson has been in the funeral business for 60 years, serving as embalmer and funeral director.

He got his start with MacLean’s Funeral Home in Charlottetown in 1953 and purchased Jelley’s Funeral Home in O’Leary on August 13, 1958. Just last winter he turned the presidency of the company over to his son, David, but he still maintains a daily interest in its operation.

“When I was a little boy, it was one of the things that appealed to me,” he says of his chosen profession. At MacLean’s in Charlottetown he started out shoveling snow and doing all the other duties of the profession.

He would later ask Neil MacLean why he hired him. “You came from the country,” was his boss’s reply. Ferguson grew up on a farm in Hampton.

His boss, he said, recognized his willingness to work.

That’s still the case.

“The big thing is helping people through a rough time,” he said, explaining that people in the business have to be available when needed. That’s why they would never consider turning the late night calls over to a phone answering service.

“It’s not about you; it’s about the people you’re dealing with, the people you’re helping,” added David Ferguson.  “When something happens, your schedule changes. It’s just the way it is.”

Doug Ferguson was in the business for 25 years before he took his first holiday. He flew to Boston to visit a cousin, he recalls.

He did, however, find time to be active with the Corinthian Lodge in O’Leary where he has now been a mason for 55 years, and with the Island Shrine Club. He also held executive roles with the P.E.I. Independent Group of Funeral Home Directors and with the P.E.I. Funeral Directors and Embalmers Association.

His take-over of the Jelley Funeral Home business coincided closely with the formation of the P.E.I. Funeral Directors and Embalmers Association of which he is a charter member. Licensing for embalmers and directors became a requirement in 1958, as well.

Some milestones along the way include opening a new funeral home in 1964 at 33 Barclay Road, where he and his wife Georgina still reside; expanding to Tyne Valley in 1988, becoming a founder of Belvedere Funeral Home in 1992 and being a part owner for three years ad opening the new Ferguson Funeral Home and Chapel along Main Street, O’Leary in 1998.

Georgina, who married Doug while he was working for MacLean’s has been the funeral home’s bookkeeper throughout her husband’s career.

Son Garth extended the family name in the funeral business to Montague in 1985, the same year that David moved home to join the family business in O’Leary. That year was also marked with tragedy as a son, Dean, who worked with the family’s ambulance service, was killed in a car crash.

The Fergusons were in the ambulance business until 1991. They still maintain a coroner’s service. They have also been agents for Heritage Monuments since 1980.

One of Doug’s brother’s, Wendell, is in the funeral home business in Moncton. He went to work for Tuttle Bros in 1965 and, since 1995 has owned Ferguson-Knowles Funeral Home with a son, Ian.

There have been many changes in the industry over the past 60 years, Doug maintains. When he started out the majority of visitations occurred in people’s homes. Even after building the funeral home on Barclay Road the shift to using a funeral home for visitations was gradual. Now, most wakes are held in the funeral home. They still regularly offer what he refers to as the traditional service, where a line is formed to view the body and then to express comforting words to a line of family members and loved ones.

While most Catholic funeral services still go to the churches, about 80 per cent of the services for non-Catholics are now held in the funeral home’s 275-seat chapel.

Although he refers to himself as semi-retired, Doug, a 2012 recipient of the Queen’s Jubilee medal, still spends time at the funeral home every day. The active staff consists of David and his wife Carol, the company’s treasurer; Ashley Young and Tashia Maynard. David Campbell and Pat Millar are their part-time employees.

“It’s been a wonderful, rewarding achievement for me,” said Doug of his 60 years in the business.

“Meeting the public: Your public relations is number one,” Ferguson said outlining a key role funeral directors perform. This Saturday the role will be reversed when the Ferguson family and staff hold an Open House to celebrate Doug and Georgina’s milestone. It will be held in the funeral home from 2 to 4 p.m. and everyone is invited to drop by.