[Paleopsych] NYT: This Man Wants to Bury You (and follow ups)
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Mon Oct 24 22:29:47 UTC 2005
This Man Wants to Bury You
[Times Select is fabulous! I found this article when going through my filing
cabinet and then searched for more articles on the mortician. Undertakers do a
great deal of sitting on local boards (art museum, charity, and so on) to act
as good citizens (and to have local regulators not examine them too closely).
As the final article shows, Mr. Waltrip has done quite well for himself indeed
and his Service Corporation International was a heavy contributor at the
national level to Bush's campaign.
[So lobbying by the funeral business has indeed gone national. I don't how
coffin makers split their contributions generally between Democrats and
Republicans. I do know that trial lawyers and university professors give nearly
all their money to Democrats.
[And so there can be national movements to counteract the effects of national
lobbying, even for such a local business as disposing of the dead. Indeed, one
motive behind the No Child Left Behind Act was for the Federal government to
counteract nation-wide lobbying of the teachers' unions. So also with tort
reform, which got stalled in Congress. NCLB succeeded only because it promised
more money, though sanctions will kick in starting 2013/14.
[Mr. Mencken would have greatly appreciated knowing about this, not only
because he had an interest in the matter of death but for its political
FINANCIAL DESK By ALLEN R. MYERSON (NYT) 2869 words
Published: August 1, 1993
Off in this city's industrial wasteland sits an unmarked building of
corrugated steel, perpetually locked. Now and then, a wide door rises,
a black Chevrolet Suburban truck backs in, and a whiff of formaldehyde
escapes before the entry clanks shut. Here, 15 times a day, more than
5,000 times a year, the residents of Houston come to be embalmed.
In any other business, Service Corporation International would call
this site its regional processing and distribution center. Remains
flow in from households and hospitals around the city, in trucks large
enough for two cots. Twin walk-in coolers accommodate the center's
backlog. Once embalmed -- or prepped, as they say -- the remains are
delivered to the company's 15 funeral homes in the Houston area.
By then, the dispatch desk at the central garage, with 13 hearses and
10 limousines, has assigned a funeral driver. On his way to the car,
he takes the appropriate steel nameplates from a pegboard. Possibly a
cursive "Waltrip" for a morning run to that funeral home, a bold "Geo.
H. Lewis & Sons" in capital letters for the afternoon, one replacing
the other in a slot on a side window. On the job, he identifies
himself as an employee of one home or the other.
As far as the mourners ever know, they are dealing with a local
funeral home as personal, familiar and unchanging as the neighborhood
church. In fact, they are dealing with the world's largest funeral
home and cemetery chain by far.
Approaching $1 billion in annual sales, S.C.I. handles 1 in every 11
funerals nationally at its 662 homes in 39 states. Manhattan's
venerable Frank E. Campbell and Riverside Memorial chapels are among
its 35 homes in the New York area. S.C.I. also owns 62 crematories, 44
flower shops and 174 cemeteries, providing deathbed-to-grave service.
Of the nation's 21,000 homes it doesn't yet own, S.C.I. has its eye on
more than 4,000. The company has dozens of homes in Canada, and the
purchase of Australia's largest chain won official approval last
month. Candidates for the company's next foreign invasion include
Britain, France, Mexico, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The Cluster Approach
Guided by Robert L. Waltrip, its founder, chairman and chief
executive, S.C.I. has quietly revolutionized funeral merchandising and
The company assembles groups of homes with deep local roots in
demographically correct turf. It then introduces centralized
purchasing, training, finance, transportation and embalming to an
extent the industry has never before known. At independent funeral
homes, employees and hearses usually sit idle, waiting for the call.
S.C.I., clustering from 2 to 51 homes in a region, keeps staff and
equipment consistently busy.
The company has also built scores of funeral homes on its cemeteries,
erasing the line that long separated the funeral director's staid
persuasion from the plot salesman's real estate hucksterism.
S.C.I.'s growth has brought opposition from proudly independent
funeral homes and consumer groups that want the company to share the
savings from its efficiencies. The company, publicly traded, achieved
a pretax profit margin of 18 percent in 1992, at least half again as
much as the industry average -- enough to give Mr. Waltrip $4 million
S.C.I. has succeeded by standing the chain concept -- perfected by
restaurants, retailers and hotels -- on its head. Instead of using a
common name to vouch for consistency, its funeral homes keep the local
names that promise distinction.
A hamburger chain has much the simpler task. The same relentless
efficiencies, the same standardization that have won the chains so
many hungry, hurried customers, would, if presented so baldly, offend
most patrons of a funeral home. Almost nobody wants a McFuneral.
Least of all in New York City, a nation of ethnic and economic
enclaves, each with its own funeral homes. Nowhere else is S.C.I.'s
invisibility more visible.
Under their own names, Campbell, the leading chiefly Christian home,
on Manhattan's East Side, and Riverside, the leading Jewish home, on
the West Side, proclaim their identities in bold lettering on sidewalk
canopies and awnings. Plaques inside preserve the memory of their
founders. Those carried through Campbell's doors have included Rudolph
Valentino, Frank Costello, Judy Garland, John Lennon and Malcolm
Forbes. Through Riverside's, Isaac Bashevis Singer and Leonard
At each home, Service Corporation International stays as anonymous as
its very name. The only fleeting signs of its presence are
fingernail-size lapel pins, with the company's linked initials, worn
by regional executives. The company's New York operations have
centralized purchasing, marketing and hearse service, but not
embalming. The traffic's too bad. Scratching the Surface
Most S.C.I. executives -- even the vice president who has managed a
McDonald's and toured Burger U. -- resist comparisons to mass
marketers. But not Mr. Waltrip. Now 62, he started out 40 years ago
with a single funeral home inherited from his family in Houston.
"The hamburger business used to be solely a Mom-and-Pop hamburger
stand," he said, in the slow drawl of someone who knew that the other
executives gathered around to talk strategy would hear him out, even
when he sounded like a country music tape played at half-speed.
"You used to sit down at the table. Mom would serve it to you. Dad's
back there cooking it. Now you go to McDonald's or Burger King and
everybody's in a uniform. All the cooking is computerized and all the
order-taking is computerized. They're all trained to say the same
things to you.
"There is nothing amazing about trying to bring that to an industry
that never had that before. And 90 percent still don't have it. But we
have just started to scratch the surface."
To plan acquisitions or new homes, executives consult with the team in
the demographic room. There, an NEC Multisync 4FG computer monitor
displays neighborhood-by-neighborhood data on incomes, shopping
preferences, ethnic groups, religion and age. And, most important,
actual and predicted death rates.
Once the company has targeted an area, it tries to buy the premier
home. Its acquisitions tend to come with client families (known as
repeat customers) who have been delivering up their members for
Often, the owners of the home initiate the talks. But even when they
don't, S.C.I.'s starting approach is always friendly, especially since
the same clans have often owned these homes since their founding. "We
try to be very, very diplomatic," said W. Blair Waltrip, the
chairman's son and an executive vice president. He has a finance
degree, not a funeral director's license, and the ways of a Wall
Street merger baron.
The younger Waltrip's first visit to a funeral home owner can seem
like a mission of compassion -- for the complications of passing the
business on to children, the cost of complying with regulations and
all the other work, work, work. If, by the end of a second visit, the
funeral director shows no desire to have S.C.I. lighten the burdens,
then Mr. Waltrip might mention that he has also called on that home's
Still no luck? "On the third contact we tell them we have property
zoned and we are seriously considering building a funeral home," Blair
Waltrip said. That might be on a cemetery that S.C.I. already owns,
giving the new home a claim on everyone who has a plot. Targeting
elderly plotholders has helped the company gather contracts for $1.3
billion in funeral arrangements, provoking rivals to demand tighter
"Not that we are competing with you," Blair Waltrip continued, as if
addressing a funeral home owner who was being unreasonable. "But we
are interested in expanding."
Sometimes, he explained, "that will motivate somebody to think more
seriously about becoming affiliated with our company."
After the acquisition comes the makeover. For $25,000, S.C.I. can
install new carpeting, lighting, furniture and wallpaper, buying most
items in bulk from manufacturers. The former owners, or their children
and assistants, are usually asked to stick around, most often as
managers but sometimes merely to maintain ties to churches and clubs.
The new owners find ways to raise the average sale at least 5 percent,
usually more. Major credit cards are accepted (and S.C.I. is thinking
about issuing its own). The company also takes special care to freshen
up the casket room, with market research and casket fashions coming
"It's getting to be more and more of a science," said John J. Roefaro,
S.C.I.'s marketing chief for the New York region, as the sun
penetrating his office at the Campbell home glinted off his chunky
Funeral homes make their biggest money on caskets, industry analysts
say. They typically mark them up two-and-a-half to three times,
figures that S.C.I. does not dispute.
In training sessions, with employees playing the roles of funeral
directors and customers, Mr. Roefaro recommends the understated
approach. "I do not want anyone to feel this is a high-pressure sales
organization," he said. "We're not selling autos."
He strode into Campbell's selection room -- or, rather, rooms -- to
demonstrate S.C.I.'s state of the art. "If there were no financial
concerns raised, the funeral director would begin here," he said,
halting at the entrance. On a wide carpeted ledge encircling the room
was a procession of rare and antique caskets. Under stage-quality
track lighting, not the slightest dust speck or scratch darkened their
sheen. The Top of the Line
For $85,000, a family could choose a seamless, cast bronze model from
1929, with a glass dome to keep viewers from making their farewells
too personal. "We search the country for these," Mr. Roefaro said.
He lingered. Then, shifting into a side room, he said that mahogany,
the most popular finish for Campbell's clientele, could go as low as
$6,295. "There is less wood used in the construction," he said with a
shrug in the lower-cost casket's direction. "A very, very basic
design. It's not as massive," he added, as a $13,700 mahogany casket
nearby began to pull him away.
That extra expense brings beefy cornices, a gracefully sculpted lid
and Mr. Roefaro's full respect. "Much more massive, a lot more," he
said, his voice dropping several notes.
Lesser woods are crowded into a back room, on skeletal, wheeled bases.
A birch casket with no railings, just notches in the side, for $5,295.
Or poplar, at $2,995. With bronze hardware, however flimsy? "Probably
not, probably just made to look that way," he said. "Probably steel."
In the farthest corner sat a narrow, boxy casket in a grayish blue
embossed fabric. Mr. Roefaro let a sign in the coffin do the talking.
"Cloth Covered Flakeboard," it said. "Non-protective. $1,295."
S.C.I. executives are discussing new ways to lure poorer families. "We
want to have a Macy's type of operation, but we want to have a
Wal-Mart too," Robert Waltrip said.
His son suggests that S.C.I. could build some large, new homes that
would advertise their prices, perhaps as low as $1,795 complete.
Once inside the homes, customers would learn the virtues of a $4,000
funeral, the industry's average. "Pricing or advertising is basically
a means to get people to come to our facility," Blair Waltrip said,
adding that he is testing this approach in St. Louis. "Then by
explaining the options, more times than not they buy up to our current
average." Industry Opposition
Regulators say that S.C.I. has scrupulously complied with price
disclosure and worker safety codes. The company has settled two
antitrust cases by selling several homes. Now it is fighting a
proposed Federal Trade Commission rule banning funeral homes from
charging handling fees that virtually prohibit customers from buying
S.C.I.'s growth has aroused the strongest opposition from rival chains
and the independent homes that dominate the trade groups. Robert
Waltrip, feeling slighted by the National Funeral Directors
Association, halted company dues payments for several months last
Critics, at the American Association of Retired Persons and even
within the industry, say that the funeral buyer should see some of
S.C.I.'s savings. "Who should benefit?" said John Eirkson, executive
director of the Pennsylvania Funeral Directors Association. "The
stockholder or the consumer?"
Mr. Eirkson derides S.C.I. as "a multinational conglomerate," noting
that state laws have kept the company from buying more than a single
home in his state and others ("That's a shame."). In the next breath,
however, he mentions owning a few hundred shares of S.C.I. himself.
Rival chains are raising S.C.I.'s costs, adding to its already heavy
debts, by bidding up funeral home prices. Executives of the Loewen
Group, based near Vancouver but the second-largest owner of homes in
the United States, boast that funeral directors fearing heavy-handed
interlopers often sell to them.
But S.C.I. is still more than twice Loewen's size. Robert Waltrip says
that his company even owns Vancouver's prime funeral homes and
cemeteries, burying the competition, or at least the competition's
family, at one of its sites.
With him, nobody else's graveyard will ever have a chance. Just inside
the entrance to S.C.I.'s Memorial Oaks Cemetery in Houston lies a low
brick wall. In the center, a bronze plaque says "Waltrip." All his
funeral arrangements are made and paid for. A GUARANTEED CUSTOMER BASE
PUBLICLY traded since 1969, Service Corporation International remains
a lot like the small family businesses it so voraciously buys.
W. Blair Waltrip, an executive vice president and the 39-year-old son
of the company's founder, is the very apparent heir. He grew up next
to a funeral home, used the parking lot as his playground and pursued
his career in the family business. "He's never done but one job since
he got out of college," grinned his father, Robert, who has no plans
Robert Waltrip's son-in-law runs an investment management unit. His
mother, a director emeritus, receives all the rewards of a current
director, amounting to $42,000 and 1,500 S.C.I. shares last year.
To memorialize the living and the dead, Mr. Waltrip last year opened
the tax-exempt American Funeral Service Museum in Houston. The
Funerals of the Famous gallery has evidence, from an S.C.I. home in
Memphis, that Elvis is dead.
The several funerary settings include a 1920's embalming room,
complete with shelves of colorful fluids, among them Decker
Laboratories Blood Solvent in yellow and Pierce VX Cavity Chemical in
orange. Behind a bronze bust of Robert Waltrip in the entrance hall, a
chiseled inscription hails "his monumental and ongoing contributions
to defining the funeral service industry." Admission $5, or $3 for
children under 12 and adults over 54.
Mr. Waltrip, however, had to bring in an outsider a few years ago to
salvage his business. To become fully integrated, S.C.I. had bought or
developed funeral insurance and casket companies. Insurance proved to
be unfamiliar, and casket sales floundered because few funeral
directors would order from a competitor.
L. William Heiligbrot, who, as a brave Texas Commerce banker, had
extended S.C.I. its first loan, became S.C.I.'s president in 1990. He
unloaded the faltering businesses and dozens of small, isolated
funeral homes. Even now, when Blair or Robert Waltrip trot out lofty
goals for earnings growth or foreign empire-building, Mr. Heiligbrot
hedges and cautions.
Mr. Heiligbrot is very much a part of the S.C.I. team, a burly, former
college football player like the chairman. In pay, he has become a
part of the family as well, with compensation of more than $3 million
last year. The elder Waltrip received more than $4 million -- an
amount pegged to the company's size and performance, he said -- and
his son, $1.6 million.
Other advantages of S.C.I. family life include the Gulfstream III jet.
For business trips, the jet sometimes swings by to pick up Mr. Waltrip
from his 40,000-acre Colorado ranch, twice the size of Manhattan.
Since the turnaround, the S.C.I. clan has earned its keep, many
analysts say. Profits since 1988 have risen nearly four-fold to $86
million last year, and to $52 million for the first half of this year.
But woe to anyone who would question how S.C.I. keeps its books. Early
this year, after Ernst & Young balked at the accounting for advance
sales of funeral services, S.C.I. turned to a more cooperative Coopers
& Lybrand. Coopers had no comment but Mr. Waltrip did: "I still don't
understand why Ernst & Young got their nose out of joint, with the
exception of the fact that they were not rehired."
The accounting flap caused just a momentary pause in the advance of
S.C.I. stock from a low of $8.50 in 1989 to $23.825 on Friday, just
off its $24 high. Mr. Waltrip is never shy about flogging his shares,
or anything else. "People that don't buy our stock just don't like
money," he said, shaking his head in wonderment. "It's the greatest
buy I've ever seen. People are always going to die."
Photos: Robert L. Waltrip in his company's mausoleum at the Memorial
Oaks Cemetery in Houston. Workers at upper left are adding vaults. (F.
Carter Smith for The New York Times) (pg. 1); Tools of the trade at
American Funeral Service Museum. (Service Corporation International)
(pg. 6) Graph/Map/Chart: Graph -- "The Invisible Giant in Funerals,"
tracks Service Corporation International cemeteries and funeral homes,
1983-July 15, 1993; Map of U.S. indicating number range of Service
Corporation International funeral homes, by state; Chart -- lists
Service Corporation International funeral homes in the New York City
area, in New Jersey and in Connecticut (Source: Company reports) (pg.
Largest U.S. Funeral Chain to Acquire Europe's Biggest, in France
BUSINESS/FINANCIAL DESK By ALLEN R. MYERSON (NYT) 453 words
Published: July 11, 1995
Service Corporation Inc., the world's largest chain of funeral homes
and cemeteries, announced an agreement yesterday to buy Europe's
largest funeral business, based in France, for $423 million. The
purchase would accelerate Service Corporation's conquest of a region
where, last year, it agreed to buy the two largest publicly held
funeral companies in Britain.
In agreeing to buy the funeral operations of Lyonnaise des Eaux of
France, Service Corporation is betting on potential, not current
performance. It would hope to raise the business's current operating
profit margin, a thin 7 percent before taxes, closer to its own 30
percent-plus by increasing efficiency, taking advantage of
deregulation and persuading the French to spend more on funerals.
Service Corporation, based in Houston, has assembled a chain of 1,561
funeral homes and 245 cemeteries by centralizing operations while
leaving customers with the impression that each home is still locally
managed and traditionally run.
The Lyonnais des Eaux operations include 950 funeral homes in France,
with others in Switzerland, Italy, Belgium, the Czech Republic and
"The completion of this significant transaction will represent a
substantial step in S.C.I.'s global growth plan," Robert L. Waltrip,
Service Corporation's chief executive, said in a prepared statement.
"We believe this new area of operations will open doors of opportunity
in France and eventually throughout Europe."
Lyonnaise des Eaux is a utility conglomerate that holds about 30
percent of the French funeral market, largely under contracts with
French cities. Service Corporation executives count on deregulation to
bring growth opportunities and the ability to charge higher prices.
The French spend an average of $2,300 for a funeral, compared with
$4,000 in the United States.
Service Corporation said the acquisition would slightly improve
per-share profit this year. But Susan R. Little, an analyst at Raymond
James, noted the company would probably have to issue more shares to
finance the purchase, and that most of the benefits would come only in
the longer run. "But even with additional equity," she said, "the
acquisition will be additive."
The purchase is subject to the approval of French regulators and the
ability of Service Corporation's offer to attract two-thirds of the
funeral business's shares -- the 51 percent owned by Lyonnais des Eaux
and the rest from other investors.
The Lyonnais des Eaux's funeral business is a separate, publicly
traded company -- the Omnium de Gestion et de Financement S.A., which
in turn owns 65 percent of another funeral business, Pompes Funebres
Generales S.A. Service Corporation would acquire both.
Funeral Industry Leaders Clash Over an Unwelcome Bid
BUSINESS/FINANCIAL DESK By ALLEN R. MYERSON (NYT) 1981 words
Published: September 27, 1996
Only in the funeral home industry or perhaps the pro wrestling arena
-- could someone like Ray L. Loewen reasonably claim the role of Mr.
The founder, chairman and chief executive of Loewen Group -- the
world's second-biggest funeral home chain, based here in the Vancouver
suburbs -- boasts that when he took command of his family's mortuary
in rural Manitoba 35 years ago, he immediately ousted his two
brothers. Last year, a Mississippi jury, outraged at what was
described as his company's campaign to drive a fifth-generation
undertaker out of business, ordered Loewen Group to pay the local man
hundreds of millions of dollars.
But now it is Mr. Loewen who is on the defensive, fending off the
advances of the Service Corporation International, a funeral home
giant three times as large. At stake for Loewen is its independence.
At stake for Service Corporation, known as S.C.I., is unchallenged
leadership in making the American way of death as coolly efficient as
the marketing of fast food.
S.C.I's $3.1 billion takeover bid for Loewen, initiated on Sept. 17,
caps a long, predatory struggle between two companies intent on
turning a fragmented ma-and-pa business into a centralized fount of
For Robert L. Waltrip and L. William Heiligbrodt, the Texans who run
S.C.I. from ornate Houston offices stuffed with bronze cowboys and
Indians, buying out Mr. Loewen and his company could, analysts say,
clear the largest obstacle toward more acquisitions at more affordable
But Mr. Loewen is digging his heels into the moist earth under the
pine, apple and plum trees shading his headquarters. For him, selling
out would mean giving up his dream of someday surpassing his larger
Though executives on both sides say the right things about synergies
and shareholder value, their clash is also intensely personal. Almost
every time leaders of the two companies have met over the last decade,
they parted even greater antagonists than before.
''It is clear that our competitors out of Texas do not like
competition,'' a shirt-sleeved Mr. Loewen said, with the booming
delivery that once helped him win a seat in his province's
legislature. ''They have been after us for 10 years.''
Mr. Waltrip, S.C.I.'s chief executive, formal as always in
undertaker's navy at his own headquarters a few days later, said
plenty of other competitors would remain if he acquired Loewen.
''This transaction has nothing to do with who is the sweetest and
nicest personality,'' he said, in the laconic manner he might use to
address the hands at his 40,000-acre ranch in Colorado. ''This has to
do with value for our shareholders and the Loewen shareholders.''
Not that years of feuding would necessarily prevent a deal. Mr. Loewen
controls about 15 percent of his company's shares, worth nearly a
half-billion dollars at S.C.I.'s offer. Although Canadian law requires
hostile bids to win 75 percent, shareholder pressure has driven the
most resolute chiefs to the bargaining table. Analysts say the odds of
a sale are roughly even.
''I don't think this is the end by any means,'' Susan R. Little of
Raymond James & Associates said yesterday.
S.C.I. executives say they will persist despite the refusal of
Loewen's board this week to even negotiate. Two years ago, they note,
their hostile bid for one of Britain's largest funeral home chains
succeeded despite one family's majority control.
The feuds, the efficiency drives -- in fact, the companies themselves
-- have largely been invisible to everyone but investors. At the 3,310
funeral homes, crematoriums and cemeteries that S.C.I. has assembled,
and at Loewen's 1,189 locations, mourners see the old familiar
business names and premises.
Consumer advocates say that the savings generated by the companies'
purchasing power and centralized controls are seldom passed on to
customers. Figures from some cities suggest that Loewen charges more
for funerals than the national average of $4,624 and that S.C.I.
charges still more -- findings the two companies dispute. S.C.I. often
serves wealthy neighborhoods; Loewen says it aims for competitive
costs and superior quality.
In New York, Attorney General Dennis C. Vacco is conducting an
antitrust inquiry into S.C.I.'s ownership of funeral homes, especially
Jewish homes, in New York City, Marc Carey, his spokesman, said.
The company says it has no antitrust or other legal problems there.
S.C.I. says acquisition of Loewen would meet antitrust rules with the
disposal of only a few homes. But Karen Leonard, consumer
representative for the Funeral and Memorial Societies of America, sees
a monopoly in the making. ''This would be the equivalent to Pepsi and
Coca-Cola merging,'' she said.
As separate as their courses have been, the companies have similar
origins. Mr. Loewen, 56, assumed control of his ailing father's
funeral home in Steinbach, Manitoba, in 1961. One brother refused to
get a haircut and another always wanted to borrow the station wagon
that served as the hearse, so Mr. Loewen bid them goodbye.
A Bible college graduate, he still often adopts a high moral tone.
''We aren't the oldest profession,'' Mr. Loewen said in an interview
here, ''but we are the most honorable.''
Mr. Waltrip, 65, began managing his family's funeral home in Houston
in 1952. He soon started buying other homes, favoring local market
leaders, like Manhattan's venerable Frank E. Campbell and Riverside
Memorial chapels. Gradually, he learned to apply relentless
efficiencies -- hearse pools and even regional embalming centers --
while leaving the homes' identities intact.
''I was the first one who did this,'' Mr. Waltrip said. ''Mr. Loewen
was way after.''
By the 1970's, the company's reach extended to Canada. But as Mr.
Waltrip bought homes in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and later in Vancouver,
Mr. Loewen was taken aback by what he saw as the Texans' heavy-handed
management. ''We determined to design a culture and a company that
would be dramatically opposed to their modus operandi,'' Mr. Loewen
Mr. Loewen and his aides court the owners of funeral homes or smaller
chains, largely in rural areas, by discussing ''succession planning,''
not acquisitions. In their pitches, the bogyman is often a drawling
executive from Houston who promises the owners that they can keep
their jobs, then dismisses ma, pa and the kids the day after closing.
Inevitably, the two executives would find themselves at the same
meetings and conventions. Mr. Waltrip often quarreled with industry
groups that he said refused to give his company voting rights in
proportion to its size and dues. Mr. Loewen decided that anyone
fighting with Mr. Waltrip -- ''Bobbie,'' he calls him, as if referring
to a wayward teen-ager -- was his friend.
By the late 1980's, Service Corporation was staggering under the
weight of other acquisitions, including coffin and insurance
operations. Mr. Loewen saw his chance. ''I thought it was an opportune
time to buy their Canadian properties and help them with their
losses,'' he recalled.
He met his counterpart in a conference room at Denver's airport.
According to Mr. Waltrip, the meeting quickly ended when he named a
price that provoked Mr. Loewen to indignantly leave the room.
Other encounters were worse. A few years ago, when Mr. Waltrip was
visiting Vancouver, Mr. Loewen invited him aboard his 55-foot Hatteras
yacht. Only minutes out, before Mr. Loewen's select Alberta steaks had
even begun sizzling, Mr. Waltrip demanded to be taken back to port.
''When you're captive on a boat and somebody insults you, you can't
get up and walk away unless you want to get your feet wet,'' Mr.
Last year, when Mr., Loewen spotted an executive who was leaving his
company having a snack at a hotel with Mr. Waltrip's son, an S.C.I.
manager, Mr. Loewen obtained a court order barring the executive from
further contact with S.C.I.
Until now, the strongest resistance to Service Corporation's advances
have come in Europe. In 1994, S.C.I. made a hostile offer for Great
Southern Group, one of Britain's largest funeral home chains.
The S.C.I. executives had skin as thick as the longhorn hides on Mr.
Heiligbrodt's parquet office floor. ''They said some horrible things
over there,'' Mr. Waltrip recalled, with a nod that gave Mr.
Heiligbrodt, sitting nearby, his cue. ''They called us cowboys,'' Mr.
Heiligbrodt, the company president, said. In the end, Great Southern
agreed to sell, although Loewen Group tried to block the deal.
In raw growth, S.C.I. has outdistanced Loewen, and its shares
consistently beat stock market averages. But until late last year,
Wall Street was more impressed by Loewen Group's earnings growth,
awarding its shares a higher earnings multiple. Last September, Mr.
Loewen threw a party at headquarters to celebrate his stock's rise to
20 times its 1987 offering price. No rival could even think of taking
Loewen over at such a level.
But two months later, the Mississippi jury verdict drove the Loewen
Group to the brink of bankruptcy. A lawyer representing an Ocean
Springs funeral home owner laid out a tale of how Loewen tried to
monopolize local markets, drive out competitors and then raise prices,
sometimes marking up coffins to triple their wholesale cost.
In a case Mr. Loewen could have settled for a few million dollars, the
jury delivered a $500 million judgment, including $400 million in
punitive damages. The foreman described Mr. Loewen as ''a rich, dumb
Canadian politician who thought he could come down and pull the wool
over the eyes of a good ol' Mississippi boy.''
In the following weeks, Loewen Group's stock fell about 20 points,
losing half its value. In January, a $175 million settlement staved
But now S.C.I. saw its chance. On Sept. 11, Mr. Heiligbrodt began
leaving messages at Mr. Loewen's office. He never heard back. ''I have
more important things to do than to talk to my competitor every day,''
Mr. Loewen explained.
On Sept. 17, with Loewen's stock rising on rumors, Mr. Heiligbrodt put
his offer into a letter to Mr. Loewen that was released to the public.
As it plots its defenses, Loewen is missing no opportunities to show
that it can get along fine without Texan owners. Last week it agreed
to buy the Rose Hills cemetery and funeral home near Los Angeles, the
world's largest, for $277 million.
Rose Hills employees, for their part, were watching what they said
just in case they found themselves working not for Loewen but for
S.C.I. As Michael A. Rogers, a funeral arrangements counselor, put it,
''I don't want to burn my bridges yet.''
Chart/Photos: ''Hardball on Hallow Grounds''
Service Corporation International, the worlds largest funeral home
chain, owns the Memorial Oaks cemetary in Houston, where the company
HEADQUARTERS Burnaby, British Columbia
CHIEF EXECUTIVE Ray L. Loewen, right
ON S.C.I. ''It is clear that our competitors out of Texas do no like
SERVICE CORPORATION INTERNATIONAL
CHIEF EXECUTIVE RObert L. Waltrip, left
ON LOEWEN ''This transaction has nothing to do with who is the
sweetest and nicest personality. This has to do with value for our
shareholders and the Loewen shareholders.''
Chart/Map shows the states where combined S.C.I-Loewen share of
funeral homes would be 10%-20% and more than 20%. (Sources: Raymond
James & Associates, Dun & Bradstreet) (pg. D1)
Chart: ''Gold Plated''
The top two funeral chains aim at the high-end of the market. Surveys
show that S.C.I. and Loewen Group provide the most expensive funeral
services in several cities. (Sources: Interfaith Funeral Information
Committee (Houston), Center for the Study of Services/Consumers
Checkbook Magazine (San Francisco, Washington), local funeral homes)
Chart: ''The Comapnies at a Glance'' S.C.I. and Loewen are the two
biggest funeral services companies in the United States, with a
combined 15 percent of the market based on 1995 sales. Here are how
the companies stack up. (Sources: Bloomberg Financial Markets, company
reports) (pg. D4)
Religion Journal; A Crab-Shaped Coffin? Funeral Museum Showcases Unusual
METROPOLITAN DESK By MAREK FUCHS (NYT) 946 words
Published: January 24, 2004
>From Mass cards under glass to a cross-shaped coffin that was popular
among undertakers in the 1800's because it had ample shoulder room,
the National Museum of Funeral History, on Barren Springs Drive here,
offers a wide survey of funeral articles in 20,000 square feet.
There is a hearse with carved-wood window coverings, a Victorian-era
mourning tableau complete with kneeler and foldable organ set to play
''In the Garden'' and an exhibit on Dr. Thomas Holmes, an embalming
innovator in the Civil War who also, the display says, had quite a
good hand at making root beer.
Robert M. Boetticher is vice chairman and president of the museum, 20
minutes from George Bush Intercontinental Airport. Mr. Boetticher
spent 40 years as a funeral director, starting when a natural
fascination led him to spend time at a mortuary as a teenager. The
mortuary eventually offered him work.
When work began on the museum more than 10 years ago, Mr. Boetticher,
similarly fascinated with the prospect of a central location for the
display of so much funeral history, began to hang out at the museum
and was again offered a position.
''Funerals are just so unpredictable,'' said Mr. Boetticher, walking
between an exhibit on Egyptian mummification, which features a
reproduction of King Tut's sarcophagus and an elongated hearse that
caused a corpse several thousand years later to have a slightly less
regal afterlife. Created to replace cumbersome and long-winding
church-to-burial funeral processions, the 1916 Packard funeral bus,
one of two dozen hearses in the museum's collection, was made by the
Fifth Avenue Coach Company. Mounted on a truck chassis, the hearse-bus
could fit almost two dozen mourners and pallbearers, not to mention
the corpse. While climbing a San Francisco hill, however, the bus
tipped backward, sending the mourners and coffin tumbling atop each
other. That was the bus's last run from church to grave site. It
served the next 40 years at a standstill, as the home of a California
Most of the items in the museumwere donated by collectors and funeral
homes, and Mr. Boetticher is constantly searching for castoffs in
antiques stores, on e-Bay and through his connections in the field.
The museum was started by Robert L. Waltrip, the founder and chairman
of Service Corporation International, a national funeral, cremation
and cemetery company. The museum, operated separately from the
company, is a nonprofit with an annual budget of $200,000 and is
connected physically but not financially to the Commonwealth Institute
of Funeral Service, a college of mortuary science popularly known as
Aside from the physical trappings of funerals, one of Mr. Boetticher's
biggest fascinations is the interplay between the consistency of
religious funeral rites over the years and the comparatively faddish
nature of the more secular customs surrounding death. ''The religion
portion of funerals hasn't changed,'' Mr. Boetticher said. ''It's the
everything before and afterward that has.''
A central current display is that of colorful and playfully ornate
coffins designed by a Ghanaian sculptor named Kane Quaye, which
resulted in tension between church authorities and families of the
deceased, the exhibit says. The fanciful coffins are built in the form
of everything from a crab to a Mercedes-Benz. They can cost a year's
salary in Ghana and are designed to honor the dead by capturing the
spirit of the person's life. A fisherman might be buried in a coffin
shaped like a crab, a canoe or a lobster, someone powerful in a coffin
resembling a leopard and a mother in one that looks like a hen. While
the packaging of bodies in status symbols for eternity has caused
debate between church members over Kane Quaye's ''fantasy coffins,''
such discussion is not limited to Ghana and colorful coffins, said
Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner, the general director of institutional
advancement at the Jewish Theological Seminary, who also worked for
six years at Riverside Memorial Chapel in Manhattan. But such
discussions, he said, most often end in the favor of the mourner. A
funeral, unlike a wedding, has little lead time, so there is less room
for a cleric to weigh in, he said, adding that the influence of
funeral homes, which cater to many denominations, also breeds
flexibility. Most importantly, said Rabbi Kirshner, the sensitivities
involved in death usually lead to a wide berth for mourners, as long
as it does not conflict with the letter of religious law. Rabbi
Kirshner said that while Jews are frequently buried in plain wooden
coffins, he recently presided at the funeral of a young boy whose
schoolmates colored and drew on the coffin as if it were a cast --
something that seemed the most fitting tribute.
Though the museum attracts its share of senior citizen and school
groups, plus the occasional Goth, on a recent weekday a group of
Japanese tourists wound their way around along with two sisters, Karen
Solomon of Millburn, N.J., and Jill Cunningham of Houston.
The sisters were milling about in the celebrity funeral section, where
there was information on where and how notables were buried, like the
football coach Vince Lombardi. He was first mourned by 2,000 at an
ecumenical service in Green Bay then, a day later, by 3,000 at St.
Patrick's Cathedral in New York, before a long funeral procession took
his coffin to a gentle slope in Red Bank, N.J.
STORM AND CRISIS: THE OVERVIEW; Owners of Nursing Home Charged in Deaths of 34
NATIONAL DESK By SHAILA DEWAN AND AL BAKER; WILLIAM YARDLEY CONTRIBUTED
FROM NEW ORLEANS FOR THIS ARTICLE, AND ERIC LIPTON FROM BATON ROUGE,
LA. (NYT) 1484 words
Published: September 14, 2005
The owners of a nursing home where 34 people died in the floodwaters
that inundated the New Orleans area were charged Tuesday with multiple
counts of negligent homicide, shortly after a new dispute broke out
between the State of Louisiana and the federal government over the
retrieval of hundreds of other bodies.
Mable B. Mangano and her husband, Salvatore A. Mangano Sr., owners of
St. Rita's Nursing Home in Violet, just east of New Orleans, turned
themselves in after the charges were filed, Attorney General Charles
C. Foti Jr. said. He said the couple had not acted on several warnings
to move the residents as Hurricane Katrina approached.
''They were warned repeatedly, both by the media and by the St.
Bernard Parish emergency preparation people, that the storm was
coming,'' Mr. Foti said at a news conference here. ''In effect, I
think that their inactions resulted in the death of these people.''
The charges represent the first major prosecution to emerge in the
The legal action came as the pace of recovery of the storm's other
casualties increased. Louisiana authorities said the number of
confirmed dead in the state increased to 423, a substantial rise from
the 279 reported on Monday. Bob Johannessen, a spokesman for the
Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, said the number of
confirmations was expected to rise each day.
Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco said the pace of recoveries should have
been much faster, however, and accused the Federal Emergency
Management Agency of slowing the retrieval of the dead to the point
where the contractor responsible for that work had threatened to pull
After days of news reports of bodies in the streets of New Orleans,
Ms. Blanco, with palpable frustration, said the state would bypass
FEMA and sign its own contract with the company, Kenyon Worldwide
''In recent days, I have spoken with FEMA officials and administration
officials to convey my absolute frustration regarding the lack of
urgency and the lack of respect involving the recovery of our people
whose lives were lost as a result of Hurricane Katrina,'' Ms. Blanco
said at a news conference in Baton Rouge. ''We have pleaded for
contract resolution. In death, as in life, our people deserve more
respect than they have received.''
FEMA officials responded by saying that the recovery of bodies was a
state responsibility, while the federal role was to assist state
''The state has always maintained direct control over the mortuary
process following this tragedy,'' Vice Adm. Thad W. Allen of the Coast
Guard, who is directing FEMA efforts in the region, said in a written
statement. ''We are committed to a process that treats the victims of
Katrina with dignity and respect and accomplishes the mission as
quickly as possible. We will work with state officials on what they
believe to be the best solution for their constituents.''
Kenyon officials said they had been struggling under cumbersome
conditions to execute a task that gets grislier by the day. The
company, which has a contract with FEMA to respond when called,
arrived Sept. 1 but was not asked to begin recovering bodies until
Sept. 6, said Bill Berry, a company spokesman.
The company's 100 or so workers have bunked in a funeral home in Baton
Rouge, forcing them to drive four hours round-trip each day, and
Kenyon officials said they had repeatedly asked for living quarters in
On Sunday, Kenyon officials told FEMA that they would not enter into a
contract with the agency and would pull out as soon as a replacement
was found, Mr. Berry said.
Mr. Berry said the company was already responding to Ms. Blanco's
request that it increase its staffing even before the new contract was
completed. ''We just keep moving the cots a little closer together,''
Mr. Berry said he did not consider it appropriate to discuss why the
company did not want to continue working under FEMA. But he had high
praise for the state, which reached out to Kenyon after the company
notified FEMA on Sunday that it would not accept a contract.
''I can't say enough about the Louisiana state people,'' Mr. Berry
said. ''They heard our problems, and they simply fixed them. It's
beautiful to see a general sitting there from the National Guard
saying, 'I can do that,' and it's done.''
In an effort to explain why Kenyon may have walked away from a federal
contract, a senior official from the Department of Homeland Security,
who would not allow his name to be used because the department had
already issued an official statement, said Tuesday that the state's
proposed contract was ''less detailed than the plan we were
negotiating'' and had four provisions compared with nine that FEMA had
For example, the official said the federal proposal would have
required that the Kenyon employees have specialized training and use
personal protective gear and have appropriate security, provisions
that the federal official said were not included in the state
Mr. Berry declined to respond, except to say that the company had 76
years of experience in disasters. It was hired in the aftermath of
Sept. 11, 2001, and last year's tsunami. ''We will let our record
speak for itself,'' he said.
Kenyon -- a unit of Service Corporation International, a giant funeral
company -- operates worldwide and handled preservation of remains
after the World Trade Center attacks and the cleanup of mass graves in
Iraq under government contracts. The company, which is based in
Houston, has contributed heavily to President Bush's campaigns. The
chairman and founder of the company is Robert L. Waltrip, a longtime
friend of the Bush family and a trustee of the George Bush
Presidential Library Foundation.
In New Orleans, anger over the slow collection of bodies, which
officials say has been hampered by floodwater and debris, still
smoldered. Dr. Brobson Lutz, a former health director for the City of
New Orleans, led an impromptu and morbid tour on Tuesday that he said
reflected the extent to which those who perished had been neglected.
It included a nursing home on Dauphine Street, where three bodies had
stayed until Dr. Brobson had mentioned them on Fox News, and the
kitchen area of his own office, where he wiped at blood from the body
of Michael Lala, the owner of Old N'Awlins Cookery. Mr. Lala had died
from heart failure a week after the storm, but the authorities did not
respond to requests to pick up the body, Dr. Brobson said, so he
stored it in his office for a week until it finally was collected on
''FEMA couldn't get the live people out in time and they can't get the
dead people out in time,'' Dr. Brobson said. ''They failed the living
and the dead.''
The residents of St. Rita's did not have to die, Attorney General
said, and he warned that other nursing homes that failed to remove
residents also faced prosecution.
Local officials had ordered a mandatory evacuation amid news reports
about the approach of the storm, Mr. Foti said. Because St. Rita's was
licensed as a Medicaid facility, it had an evacuation plan in place,
but it did not use it, he said.
In addition to the mandatory evacuation order, officials offered to
send two buses to the nursing home, but Mr. Foti said the Manganos
declined that offer. Also, the owners had an agreement with an
ambulance company, signed in April, to provide ambulances to evacuate
special-needs patients, but ''they were never called,'' Mr. Foti said.
At least two drowning victims at the home could have been family
members who went to the scene or people who took refuge there, he
said, adding that the remains were being identified.
James A. Cobb, the lawyer for the Manganos, said that they were not
guilty of the charges and that they were unaware a mandatory
evacuation order had been issued. Mr. Cobb said that if the patients
-- some on feeding tubes, oxygen and in need of medication -- had been
put on a bus for 12 hours to evacuate, ''people are going to die.''
A deputy at the East Baton Rouge jail said the Manganos had posted a
bond of $50,000 and were expected to be released.
Photo: Medical personnel prepared to enter L.S.U. Medical Center in
New Orleans yesterday to remove bodies. (Photo by Doug Mills/The New
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