In 1902, William Alvis Rich left Baltimore, Maryland and returned to his hometown of Graham, NC. With him were his wife Lettie McCoy Rich and a two-year-old son, Alvis M. Rich. W.A. Rich had gone to Baltimore to work and study the art of embalming and the business of funeral directing. Upon his return to Graham, he established the first professional and licensed business in Alamance County whose sole purpose was the caring for and burial of the dead. During the next eleven years Mr. W. A. Rich practiced his profession with his brother, James A. Rich.
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William Alvis "W. A." Rich died in 1913. His brother James continued operating the business and was later joined by W. Ernest Thompson as a partner. In 1919 Alvis M. Rich, son of W.A., graduated from Brown's College of Embalming and followed the footsteps of his father, making the practice of funeral service his life career. In 1926 the funeral service was incorporated, with its owners being James H. Rich, Alvis M. Rich, W. Ernest Thompson and Charles A. Thompson. That same year, Rich & Thompson opened a location in Burlington. It was located on Church Street at the site of the present Duncan's Exxon Service Station. While the new business opened and became more and more successful in Burlington, the Graham branch continued operation until 1935. In the 1930's James Worth Rich, James H. Rich's son, joined the business. It was at this time that Frank M. Rich also joined the firm.
In 1934, with the aim to bring funeral service into the "modern" world, the owner's of Rich & Thompson Funeral Service purchased a large tract of land, that at the time, was located outside the city limits of Burlington. The tract was located at the present day corners of Church Street and Glenwood Avenue. A Durham architect, George F. Hackney, was hired to design a funeral home with an attached chapel, the likes of which did not exist in North Carolina. Mr. Hackney completed the design and the first building ever built for the sole purpose of conducting funeral services in North Carolina was constructed. The English Tudor architecture was unique to the era in which it was completed. The building was completed in October 1935 and was dedicated for service to all people, regardless of their means --- to honor and respect every deceased person and their families that pass through our doors. It was a practice and pledge that began in 1902, was reiterated in 1935 and still continues today as we enter our second century of continued service.
During the war years, that same quality of service that was promised in our beginnings was maintained. Although funeral supplies and employees were hard to obtain, Rich & Thompson managed to carry out functions for all who needed them. Victims of the war were accorded the care and dignity that were owed to them by a grateful nation.
One of the ancillary services provided by funeral homes was ambulance transportation. This came about because hearses and other funeral home vehicles could be converted to service as combination vehicles. Funeral home personnel were trained by local doctors, nurses, and the Red Cross in rendering first aid as well as assisting in rescues. In 1958, Frank M. Rich devised a suction system that ran off the ambulance engine's suction. He refined and patented this device and in 1968 the federal government mandated that all ambulances be equipped with such a unit. Many lives have been saved by the "Rico Aspirator". In 1967, federal regulations forced many funeral homes out of the ambulance service due to wage and hour laws.
In 1954, the Rich family purchased the Thompson family's interest in the funeral home. The new officers of the business were now Alvis M. Rich, J. Worth Rich, and Frank M. Rich. The company had evolved back in the hands of the Rich's, the original owners.
In 1956, Rich and Thompson saw the need to return to Graham to more conveniently serve families in that area. The home place of William Freshwater Jones, in Graham, was purchased by the Rich's. The Jones home place was built after the Civil War and was originally constructed of beams and pegs. The front part of the home was used in the design of the funeral home. To the original part they added a chapel, selection room, visitation room, family room, preparation room as well as a dormitory room for ambulance personal. The dedication of the new facility was held on July 21, 1957.
In 1960, Rich and Thompson's Burlington facility was completely remodeled. Alvis Rich's residence was joined with the existing mortuary to increase it's size by one third. With the addition of the Rich's residence, a new casket selection room was constructed between the two buildings.
In 1973, Rich & Thompson once again changed hands. William Joseph Rich, grandson of founder W.A. Rich and son of Alvis M. Rich, S. Lloyd Carter, M. Glenn Hannah, and James R. Guthrie became the owners of the company. At the time, all had been longtime employees of the firm.
In 1999, a remodeling of the facility in Graham was completed. In 2000, a major remodeling in Burlington was undertaken and was completed in early 2001. Currently, Rich and Thompson is owned by S. Lloyd Carter and James R. Guthrie. As business has grown throughout the years, Rich and Thompson Funeral Service still honors those commitments to service made by our founders in 1902.
Judge Albert Sidney (James Garner) has retired from the bench and pretty much life itself, when he's asked to help out his old boyhood friend, Gee Penniwell (Bill Cobbs), who's refusing the government's belated attempt to award him the Medal of Honor. In his attempts to delve deeper into the mystery, Albert Sydney is confronted not only Gee's bitterness about WW II, but the silent war he and the black man have maintained for almost 30 years.