Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Flower-Filled Remembrance

Flowers were not only part of Chevis Davis Chitwood Kyte’s daily routine—hand-painted on dishware for her employer, Southern Potteries—but they made a significant statement at her last public remembrance.

After her passing on November 15, 1942, the Johnson City Press ran her obituary in preparation for her funeral. Unlike any such obituaries I’ve known from life up north, this Tennessee notice included the name of every single person involved in the program. That, for those of you who have never seen such a custom published in a southern newspaper, included the following count:

  • Six active pallbearers
  • Twenty eight honorary pallbearers
  • Forty three flower bearers

Flower bearers?

For a northerner unfamiliar with any such custom, reading that list seemed overwhelming to me. I felt like the entire town had come together to bid Chevis a final goodbye. It made me wonder what was so special as to merit such attention for a funeral.

Then I realized that, perhaps, this was a regional tradition I was unfamiliar with. I’ve since seen other such mentions in Tennessee obituaries—though, admittedly, not to such lengths. A quick perusal of the terms “funeral” and “flower bearers” yielded several pages of search results online, so the tradition is apparently still alive in many circles.

Since I feel fairly safe to assume that nearly all those whose names were published on that list are no longer with us, I’ll print the announcement in its entirety so you can share my amazement. (I’m generous that way.)

If you happen to be of a similar southern persuasion, please feel free to educate me—and the rest of the readers here who might be of like northern handicap—by filling in the blanks on this custom: how does it work? Does it signify anything special? Is it just an honorary listing—or do these people take a specific role in the ceremony?

            ERWIN—Nov. 16.—Mrs. Chevis Kyte, 48, died at her home on Catawba street at 3:30 Sunday morning, after she had been in declining health for the past year.
            Surviving are one daughter, Mrs. Emma Lee Engle; a son, H. M. Chitwood; her mother, Mrs. Cassie Davis, all of Erwin; two sisters, Mrs. Mabel Martin of Newark, N. J., and Mrs. Lummie Moore of Tela, Honduras; one brother, Jack Davis of Columbus, Ohio, and two grandchildren.
            Funeral services will be held at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Church of Christ, of which she was a member. The Rev. Lonnie E. Dever, church pastor, assisted by the Rev. F. Roderick Dail, will officiate. Burial will be in Evergreen cemetery.
            Active pallbearers: Carl McInturff, Guy Robbins, Roy Tucker, Herbert Toney, Fred D. Booth and Luther Hurd.
            Honorary pallbearers: Ross Jones, Bert Wilson, R. O. Bailey, Dave Hartsell, Harry Campbell, Grant Martin, C. W. Davis, J. B. Engle, Ernest Stallard, Jim Turner, Bill Tucker, J. Q. Jones, Arh Beckelheimer, R. L. Hensley, L. C. Roberts, T. H. Peters, W. W. Ryburn, Sam Brown, S. B. Stallard, O. L. Harvey, M. P. Blankenship, Charles H. Ervin, E. E. Clouse, Claude Jones, Will Burnett, W. W. Erwin, R. T. Bailey, Claude Gouge.
            Flower bearers: Mesdames Fannie Fox, Pauline Morgan, Dolly Six, George Maddox, Charles Hicks, Ola Swingle, Florence Updike, George Dishman, C. W. Davis, Ross Jones, R. O. Bailey, Dave Hartsell, W. H. Allen, Guy Fritz, Harry Campbell, Grant Martin, Ernest Stallard, Jim Turner, John Suggs, J. B. Engle, W. R. Cox, O. L. Harvey, Guy Robbins, Carl McInturff, Arch Beckelheimer, Sam Brown, Ed Clouse, Annie Tinker, Claude Jones, B. W. Head, J. C. Rule, L. C. Roberts, Lee Johnson, Roberta Keesecker, Nannie Ray, W. M. Erwin, W. W. Ryburn, Cassie Smith, T. H. Peters, Claude Gouge, Sara K. Gentry and Misses Maude Tucker and Mary Johnson.


  1. If a family has more people than required for pallbearers, there is the option of having flower bearers and/or honorary bearers that may walk in front of or behind the casket and possibly form an honor guard at the conclusion of the funeral and/or at a cemetery. Sometimes these roles are provided by younger members of a family or those who might not be able to bear the weight of the casket, but nonetheless willing to be active participants in the funeral.

    So, in all likelihood, this woman was very well loved.

    1. Thanks for confirming that, Iggy. Perhaps you are right: she was well-loved, apparently. I thought that was an unusually long list.

      At first, I had wondered if the length was owing to the fact that her mother was well-known in the community, but now that I take a look at Cassie's own obituary, there is no such type of mention for her.

      Makes me want to know more about Chevis' role in her own home town and what it was that led to such a show of community support.

  2. A quick look at some of my obits turned up one with honorary pallbearers for my grandfather's brother. I recognize some of the names as long time family friends; the others were likely coworkers or people from church. My great-grandmother's obit mentions the "ladies of the church" carrying flowers. I wonder what that looked like -- were they schlepping floral sprays and baskets from the florist? were they carrying bouquets? single
    stems to toss onto the grave?

    1. Now that makes two of us wondering what it was all about! Thanks for checking those obits from your family, Wendy.

      Good point about some of the names representing relatives. I did see some surnames that are possible relations to Chevis--like Broyles and Tucker. But I assure you, not every name on that list was a relative!

  3. I just did a quick peek at some of the Flower-bearers:

    In the 1940 US Census:

    Arch Beckelheimer was a conductor.
    Charles Hicks was a conductor.
    Fannie Fox was a clerk at a retail clothing store.
    Pauline Morgan, widowed, not working.
    Dolly Six was a "Stamper" at Southern Pottery.
    Grant Martin owned a Dry Cleaners.
    Mary Johnson was a cook.

    Many of them were living on Catawba street and were neighbors.

    1. Erwin, Tennessee, was a pretty small town at the time. It's interesting to see some of those on the list were neighbors from her own street--as well as co-workers, too.

      Thanks for taking the time to check that list out, Iggy! Those are some interesting finds. Chances are, many of the others may have been people Chevis knew from making her rounds on everyday errands, or from the church she attended. It's a list that does help illustrate her network of friends and acquaintances.

  4. Sounds like a lovely tradition to me. We did something similar one time. I and my husband were both volunteer fireman. A fellow fireman died and at the end of the service we gave him our corsages. It was a real personal final goodbye.

    1. I have seen that done, too, Far Side, and it is a moving gesture indeed. Of course, you know I have a law enforcement connection, and they have many traditions, too, in honoring one of their own (especially if fallen in the line of duty). But I've also seen that type of personal goodbye done in regular civilian ceremonies, too.

      With the listing of names of flower bearers, though, it just seemed so much more of a bigger-than-life farewell, I couldn't even imagine it. I'm sure it's very touching...just wondering if someone could help paint the picture for me.


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