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Living Legend’s Legacy: Fort Worth funeral director carries on family business

🕐 5 min read

Betty Dillard bdillard@bizpress.net

Death has been Mildred Nimmo Lucas’ livelihood almost her entire life. A native of Texas and a resident of Fort Worth since the Great Depression, she married into the Lucas clan during World War II and unexpectedly found herself in the funeral business. For more than a century and a half, the Lucas family has owned and operated Lucas Funeral Homes in Tarrant County. Within a two-week period in 1962, Mildred lost her oldest son in a hunting accident and her husband, Bobby Joe Lucas, to ill health. With her younger son, James (Jim) Lucas Sr., still in high school, Mildred had to earn a funeral director’s license to keep the family business in operation. She attended the Dallas Mortuary Institute in 1966 – the only woman in her class when female funeral directors were a rarity – and continues to blaze a trail in both the death care industry and the community. “I said women don’t do that. They don’t become funeral directors. But things happened and we really didn’t have any control over them. We had to carry on the business. We had to have someone with a license,” she said.

Now just shy of 92, Mildred Lucas is still operating the family business, working at the Fort Worth location on Sylvania Avenue seven days a week, 365 days a year, alongside Jim, managing member of the whole company. “She’s a very dedicated, very focused woman,” Jim Lucas said. “She’s here at 8 a.m. every day and stays until 3:30 or 4. If we have a visitation, she’ll stay for that. Our philosophy is we live outside the box. Whatever we need to do to help a family, we do it. A lot of that was instilled in me by my mom. She’s always treated each family individually, listening to their needs and then doing whatever it takes to meet those needs.” Up until a year or so ago, Mildred was still driving herself to work from the home she’s lived in the past 65 years. Someone now picks her up and drops her off. And a few years ago she left family consultations and counseling to Jim, focusing instead on meeting and greeting families as they enter the funeral home. His mother has personally served thousands of people, Jim said. “I’m bored at home. I want to come in every day and greet and visit with people,” Mildred said. Her desk is situated by the front door, a picture of her graduating class from mortuary school – she stands out in a white dress – hanging on the wall behind. “Not anyone wants to come in our front door. They come in here because they’re in trouble and need help. People are grieving and have a lot of troubles on their minds and have a lot of things to decide on. They need help and understanding and compassion,” Mildred said. In honor of her trailblazing career and for continuing to provide grief support and help through the difficult experience of losing a loved one, Mildred Lucas was named Funeral Director of the Year by the North Texas Funeral Directors Association in April. “That one floored me,” she said.

Shelly Green, Mildred’s granddaughter, says the honor was long overdue. “Mom kept saying she didn’t know what she had done to deserve this. I said it was about time,” Green said. “One thing I’ve noticed about Mom through the years is that she has deep respect for death and dying and for families. She treats everyone with respect and is very compassionate. She’s compassionate for the families and for those people lying in state.” “If you lose compassion you’ve lost it all,” Mildred replied.

A living legacy Lucas Funeral Homes and Cremation Services got its start in the 1860s when Thomas M. Lucas first opened a general store in Grapevine. The store sold groceries, dry goods, farm implements and coffins. Later, Lucas and his son, Wingate (Wink) H. Lucas I, owned the business. The business was then carried on by Wink and two of his sons, Wingate H. Lucas II and Dave Lucas. In 1910, both Wink and Dave died and J.T. Lucas Sr., known as Uncle Joe, acquired the Lucas Funeral Business, along with the grocery, furniture and implements. Four of Uncle Joe’s five sons became morticians: Robert Lee (Bob), Wingate Clemons (Mann), J.T. Jr. and L.B. (Zippy) Lucas.

Over the years, Lucas Funeral Homes expanded into other communities. Bob Lucas, Bobby Joe’s father, established the Fort Worth location in 1929, Zippy started the funeral home in Hurst in 1962 and J.T. Jr. continued to operate the funeral home in Grapevine. Today, the company has six locations operating under the Lucas name – in Fort Worth, Hurst, Grapevine, Burleson, Keller and Justin – and a dozen others operating under their original names located west and north of Fort Worth. Overall, the company handles between 1,500 and 2,000 burials and cremations a year, according to Jim Lucas, and employs 100 full-time and part-time employees, many of them Lucas descendants. “We’re now in our fifth generation with my two sons,” Jim said. “We’re the only fifth-generation funeral home locally and one of the few in the state. Both my boys sought different careers but both came back.” Mildred Lucas is proud to see the legacy and the Lucas name passed on to the next generations. “In any profession, so many times the grandchildren and great-grandchildren don’t want to carry on the business. We’ve been very fortunate it’s been carried on to the fifth generation,” she said.

When Mildred took the helm as funeral director in 1966, the industry was predominantly a man’s world. Since the late 1970s, the number of women enrolling in U.S. mortuary schools has nearly doubled. In 1995, 35 percent of mortuary students were women. That number has risen to 60 percent, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. Mildred said she made her career choice out of necessity, not because she set out to break a barrier. “I appreciate all the women who work in this business today,” she said. “The hardest part has been working with families who lose babies and young children. But it’s rewarding to counsel families and make them feel better. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It’s been a wonderful life.”

 

 

Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

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