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Gillette News Record Article on Kevin Reid, Licensed Funeral Director
A NEED TO HELP OTHERS By TONY RAAP, NEWS RECORD WRITER
Published: Tuesday, December 28, 2010 12:28 PM MST
Kevin Reid laughed when someone suggested he become a mortician.
He remembers thinking, “No way in heck could I do that.”
After all, it’s not a profession people dream of pursuing. No one ever says, “When I grow up, I want to work with dead people.”
But his father’s death gave him a different perspective on the funeral industry. He saw firsthand how caring and attentive the funeral directors were to his family, how they made an impossible task bearable, and that is when the idea began to take root.
Today, Reid works as a funeral director and embalmer for Gillette Memorial Chapel. His clients praise him for his compassion and empathy, and several have developed a lasting friendship with the man who helped them bury a loved one.
Reid’s story began when he joined the Air Force after graduating high school. Four months later, his father, Richard Reid, was diagnosed with brain cancer, a byproduct of his exposure to the toxic herbicide Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.
He died two years later when Reid was 21 years old. The funeral home employees in his hometown of Sidney, Mont., took good care of his father while also consoling Reid’s grief-stricken family.
He was impressed with how caring the funeral directors were and promised to keep in touch. Unbeknownst to Reid, his father’s death would pave his career path. He lost his father but found his calling.
A year later, Reid came home on leave. He stopped by the local funeral home to say hello, and the funeral directors suggested he join the funeral business when he got out of the service.
“You got a good heart,” they said. “You care about people.”
Reid laughed it off. He couldn’t picture himself working in a funeral home, doing all the unpleasant tasks that go along with embalming, not to mention the constant grieving.
But over time, the idea grew on him. He always wanted to help people, and he remembered how helpful the funeral directors were when his father died.
When his enlistment was up, Reid decided to become a mortician. He was nervous at first because he hadn’t been around dead people very much.
But one of his mentors put his mind at ease, telling him that only 20 percent of the job is working with dead people, and the other 80 percent is spent with families of the deceased.
Over the years, as he has bounced around to funeral homes in Montana, Oregon and now Gillette, he has learned to stomach the embalming process but prefers to interact with the living.
“Hands down,” he said, “my favorite part of this job is meeting with families.”
He enjoys helping widows and widowers when they’re at their worst. Clients say empathy is his defining quality.
“I know what it’s like,” he said, “to sit across the table from someone like me.”
Tom Catalano met Reid in 2007 during one of the darkest periods in his life. Catalano’s son, Airman 1st Class Matt Heiland, had been killed in a motorcycle crash at an Oklahoma airbase, and Catalano needed a shoulder to cry on.
Reid took the reins, overseeing the funeral and making sure every detail was just how Catalano wanted it. When the birth date on Heiland’s footstone was wrong, Reid made sure it was fixed.
“The guy was really thorough about everything,” Catalano said. “That’s what won us over.”
After his son was laid to rest, Catalano, owner of Cowboy Up Auto, began building and auctioning off hot rods. The proceeds benefit the Matthew Fund, a hardship account for airmen who want to fly home to visit their families but can’t afford to.
Reid has helped Catalano put together a few hot rods, even though he isn’t mechanically inclined. The two have become lifelong friends, regularly going out to lunch and hanging out after work. Catalano doesn’t view Reid as just a funeral director.
“Kevin,” he said, “is pretty much family.” High praise for a guy who became a mortician by accident.
Our Service of Memory and Hope was held on Thursday, November 22, 2010 at Gillette Memorial Chapel.
National Hospice Month