STRASBURG — If you’d ask Marty White, life is all about service.
After transitioning from a chef to a member of the funeral home industry about 27 years ago, White said he’s stayed true to that philosophy in his role as the owner, president and general manager of Stover Funeral Home & Crematory in Strasburg.
That same passion for service has led to his installation as the president of the Executive Board of the Virginia Funeral Directors Association.
“When someone asked me how do you transition from a chef to a funeral director, I can say that we’ve been service-oriented from the start,” White said. “We served foods, did banquets and created atmospheres for people that they’ll never forget. That’s transferred over to the funeral industry.”
The association, which was formed in 1887 with the help of the Stover family, leads the funeral industry in Virginia as far as guidelines and serves as a source of information and guidance to funeral homes. It also works closely with the Virginia General Assembly.
White said the board operates on chairs at a five-year commitment and that he will next serve as immediate past president to complete that process. He’s been a member of the association for the duration of his time in the funeral industry.
While he didn’t originally have plans to join the funeral industry, White said it was after the passing of his grandmother when a gentleman at a funeral home in his hometown of Abingdon approached him about changing career courses.
White said he was heavily involved in the process of his grandmother’s service, prompting the initial invitation.
He took a 30-day leave of absence from his job as a chef, then decided to make the jump and switch careers.
The funeral home in Abingdon sent him to get his degree in mortuary science at Gupton-Jones College in Atlanta, “and the rest is history,” he said.
He and his wife Sharon moved to Strasburg in 2007, and he went to work for Stover Funeral Home, later purchasing it in 2019.
Throughout the duration, he said he’s always focused on serving.
“I really think it’s a calling. I consider this a ministry in ways, helping people who can’t help themselves in such time of need,” he said of the funeral industry. “That, to me, is the most rewarding. It’s a servant’s position.”
Over the course of almost three decades, White said things have constantly changed in the funeral industry, keeping him on his toes and driving a passion to always stay informed and open-minded.
“Everything changes. We’ve seen changes in this industry as far as regulation, preferences for types of services, and cremation wasn’t really a thing, though, about when I got into this industry,” he said. “There’s been a lot of things that we’ve had to adapt to over time to still provide a service that people are looking for. You’ve got to be open-minded in this industry. It’s not a cookie-cutter industry by any means.”
White said as a shift has moved toward more cremation requests, a misconception on those types of services being driven by the cost has been a hurdle to overcome.
But he said that’s where focusing on the needs of the family and being open to new ideas has come into play.
“I think it’s becoming more of a choice of disposition,” he said of cremation. “We still have services with cremation, and some choose a full viewing, full service and cremation afterward. I think it’s more of a preference than a demand on finance.”
The same goes for other services such as providing videos before and during services as well as pet cremation services.
White said he and his staff stay updated and informed by going “above and beyond” the required continuing education guidelines as well as attending state and national conferences and bringing back ideas and tailoring them to the local community’s needs.
He said he feels it’s important to understand the community’s needs, because they’re “family.”
“We truly are part of the family. Once we serve that family and they leave here, they become part of our family,” he said. “We become an intimate part of who they are, because we’ve handled a sacred part of their life.”
White said he’s grateful that the community has accepted and embraced his family.
“We came here with the intentions of hoping one day we’d be in ownership. We fell in love with Strasburg. It’s home to us. I can’t imagine being anywhere else,” he said. “It’s kind of tricky when someone comes in from out of town and then owns a funeral home that’s been in the area for over 100 years. We’re grateful the people have loved us as much as we’ve loved them.”
In his new role, White said he’s most looking forward to “rising to the top and staying at the top” when it comes to working through the safest and best guidelines in the industry, especially when it comes to COVID-19.