How being surrounded by death helped Herbert Small live a good life

Posted at 11:15 AM, Feb 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-17 09:48:17-05

COLONIAL HEIGHTS, Va. -- Surrounded by death for years, Herbert Small said he's lived a good life.

Friends, family, and community members gathered this month to celebrate the Colonial Heights man's 95th birthday.

Small said he measures his life by thinking about what he's done to help people.

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Small retired from the business in 1990, after decades of helping countless families. Something he continues to do, even though he’s officially off the clock.

"My brother [Alvin] started out and got me in," Small said about his funeral home beginnings. "Alvin and I always looked at the situation as a business, but also an opportunity to make somebody else feel better even at death."

A position where Small could help families in need.

"People in this business have got to have a whole big heart," he said. "You sit down and talk with them personally, without worrying about the business part of it. At least that was my thoughts."

Before he worked in the funeral business, Small served in the United States Navy during World War II. He was just 17 years old.

Small was first deployed to the North Atlantic and later the South Pacific.

"The Navy is still in my blood," Small said.

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He said his stint in the Navy taught him something mortuary college could not, how to deal with people with empathy and compassion.

"You put yourself in their position, you really do. If you're going to be a success in life, you have to look at other people's problems as well as your own," he said. "I would wake up in the middle of the night, thinking about somebody I'd talked to at three o'clock in the afternoon."

Early in the days of the first ambulance service, Colonial Heights parked an ambulance at Small funeral home and Herbert Small was there lending his helping hand.

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"We were the only ambulance in Colonial Heights," he said. "We had a lot of OB cases. If you've been to mortuary college, you learn how to do have a baby, at least I did. I've delivered about five or six babies in my lifetime."

Small also dedicated time to the American Legion, the Masonic Order, and was a founding member of the Colonial Heights Kiwanis Club.

Married for 75 years, Herbert and Arlene Small raised two daughters to whom they preached the Golden Rule, treat others as you want to be treated.

Small Funeral Home is now owned and operated by Alvin and Herbert's nephews, Bryan Small and Lee Smith.

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