CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- He's the silver-haired granddaddy of a nearly extinct concept -- the family-owned funeral home. Richard "Dick" Long grew up in the business, working for his father at the Noble Long Funeral Home on the West Side.
His many years as a respected mortician included partnerships with other well-known names in the business -- Johnson and Fisher.
He tells colorful stories about the old days, a time before corporate buyouts when independent owners valued personal longstanding relationships with the families they helped.
At 82, barring a few if-onlys, he'd start up again in a heartbeat. He's working on it.
"I was born Aug. 16, 1928. We had a place on the West Side, the 1600 block of Washington Street where my dad's funeral home was. It was the Noble Long Funeral Home originally.
"My dad worked my butt off from the time I was big enough to carry chairs and run the vacuum cleaner. I expect I've run a vacuum cleaner one million miles. One thing I won't do to this day is pick up a chair at a funeral home.
"We had six automobiles. All six were washed first thing in the morning. When they went out and came back in, they were washed again. So I've washed my share of automobiles.
"I got my driver's license when I was 15 and started driving the cars. We had ambulance service back then, and I started driving that thing. That was during the war, and all the young men able to do that kind of work were gone. I was big enough to do my share.
"We had a mine contract at Alcott and did all the ambulance and funeral work for those people. I don't know how many babies I had born in an ambulance, eight miles off the main road, trying to get them back to Charleston General.
"Our firm and Everett Cunningham's firm probably did 70 percent of the work in the valley. Everett worked for my dad before he went into business for himself.
"My father and E.A. Johnson, Mack and Wayne Johnson's grandfather, ran a little whiskey back in those days. Johnson was the ringleader, and he went to [jail] Atlanta for a while. My dad made a deal. If he would go to school, he wouldn't have to go to jail. So he went to embalming school at Cincinnati.
"Johnson had some money stashed away, and when he got out, they started the Long and Johnson Funeral Home on the 1300 block of Washington Street.
"In 1933, Dad opened his own place in the 1600 block and Johnson stayed in the 1300 block. In '48, Dad built the building on Rebecca Street. Then Dad and Johnson got back together, and Lyden Fisher came in with them, so it was Long Johnson and Fisher. In 1968, they built another one in Sissonville.
"I was born into it and didn't know anything else, so I stayed with it. I went to embalming school in Cincinnati in 1950. We had our preparation room at the Cincinnati General Hospital. We embalmed bodies for the black funerals. It didn't cost them anything except for the chemicals. We didn't believe anybody but black people ever died in Cincinnati. We embalmed 1,700 bodies for them.
"When I came out of school, I embalmed one body at the family home. My dad embalmed a lot of bodies in the home. He would embalm the bodies and put them in bed. When the family bought the casket, he would bring the casket and put the body in it. Lots of times, they had the funeral right there in the house.
"Dad died of a stroke in 1952. He was only 50. I ran the funeral home a couple of years for my mother, but Dad always told me he wanted me to have it, so I bought her out.
"I bought the place three times. First, I bought my mother out. Then we bought Johnson out, then Fisher. I paid more for it each time.
"When Fisher and I bought Johnson out, we dropped his name. Now, Long and Fisher on Rebecca Street is sub-leased. A corporation owns Long and Fisher at Sissonville and Pryor at East Bank, another funeral home I had.