By Thomas A. Parmalee
When I texted Doug Gober asking if he could chat about receiving the ICCFA Educational Foundation’s Lasting Impact Award, he called me back from an unexpected place: Europe.
Actually, I should not have been surprised: After all, this is the same Doug Gober who has delivered several hundred presentations at death-care conventions throughout the world. This time, he was traveling for pleasure on a trip that had been in the works long before he’d even learned he was to receive one of the profession’s greatest honors.
“I have had a lot of great experiences in this business, and you know it, because in many cases you were there,” he said. “But I don’t think anything compares to my experience at ICCFA.”
Gober recalled with a chuckle that his face was planted “on every post and in every corner in the exhibit hall” and quipped that some people told him they wanted him to receive his award so they could stop looking at him.
“But that was nice,” he said.
“The impact on me was how many people came up to me before and after and told me of a specific instance where I had said something in one presentation or another that they had used,” Gober said. “Funeral directors, cemeterians, and suppliers – they all came up to me.”
Some of the feedback he received was powerful, including a few cases where someone told him that they had stayed in the business because of something he had said.
When it came time to pay tribute to Gober at the May 17 reception at the ICCFA’s annual convention in Kansas City, Missouri, there were “probably close to 400 people in the room,” he said. That included all four of his children, his wife, Vickie, four of his five grandchildren and numerous other relatives.
Prior to Gober accepting the award, the ICCFA Educational Foundation played a video highlighting his many achievements, which included comments from various titans of the industry, such as Jim Price, senior vice president of industry relations at Park Lawn and the president and chairman of the ICCFA Educational Foundation; Jay Dodds; chief operating officer at Park Lawn Corp.; Jerry Pullins, formerly of Live Oak Bank; Ernie Heffner, owner of Heffner Funeral Chapel & Crematory; Mark Krause of Foundation Partners Group and many others.
The video also noted some details that were not in the article on Gober that was previously published on FuenralVision.org. For instance, he was born on a naval base in Bermuda where his parents were stationed, he moved with his family back to Alabama as a baby and his first job was pumping gas.
In the video, Gober said, “We were on the wrong side of the tracks in Birmingham, but I sure didn’t know it – most of my friends’ parents worked in the steel mills, the mines or one of the businesses that supported them.”
Krause said in the video, “His vision, message and influence have helped move the profession forward multiple times …. All of us in funeral service are better because of Doug.”
Dodds may have summed Gober up best when he said, “In my view, the greatest impact Doug has made on the profession is his ability to never say no. If asked to finance, sell or merchandize a business, preach a funeral or speak on any topic or assemble a band – the answer is always yes.”
Price singled Gober out for his constant mentorship, observing, “True leaders don’t create followers; they create more leaders.”
But the most powerful words at the reception came from Gober himself, who delivered an amazing acceptance speech.
He began by recognizing the many members of his family in attendance as well as those who could not be there.
“I think possibly the most humbling thing about this award for me is the response from my family,” he said. “Their excitement and support, not only for being here, but the things they said. These people just exude love, it just seeps out of their pores.” He added, “If all of us had families like mine and Vickie’s, the world would simply be a happier place. Are we perfect, of course not, but we’re close enough for me.”
Of the previous winners – Glenda Stansbury, Bob Boetticher Sr., Ernie Heffner, Tom Flynn, Jan Scruggs, Richard Darby, David Wharmby, Richard O’Sullivan and Todd W. Van Beck – he said they are all folks he has admired and that he “could barely carry their briefcases.”
He continued, “I’m really the Forrest Gump of funeral service. I’m not the smartest guy in this business but my life’s experiences have been deep and wide and exhilarating. Born in the South, physically challenged, met Bear Bryant, met presidents of the industry, helped create stuff used internationally, and attended and participated in some of the most interesting, inspiring events that have occurred in funeral service in the last half century.”
Gober also highlighted six events that have shaped the course of his life, which you should read about in his full speech.
One of his funnier lines came when he referenced Michael DiBease, senior vice president of strategic accounts and business development at Batesville.
“DiBease really doesn’t get the credit, or blame, depending on your perspective, that he deserves for my modicum of success in this business,” Gober shared. “Mike taught me all I knew at that time about casket merchandising. I knew early on that this was going to be interesting when I took over North Mississippi from the only BCC rep they had ever had. He was still around, so he traveled with me to introduce me to my new clients. On every occasion, he introduced me by saying these exact words, This is the little red-headed SOB who’s taking my territory away from me.”
The day after the convention, Gober found himself making a connection through the Atlanta airport on his trek home. He went to the Delta Sky Club to get a glass of tea when an ICCFA attendee came up to him.
All the man could talk about were the remarks Gober delivered at the convention. “That was a holy moly moment for me that was really pretty cool,” he said.
“Nothing has ever been more of a surprise or heartfelt than this,” Gober said. “It was really quite amazing.”
Editor’s note: The reception sponsors were Service Corporation International, Park Lawn Corp., Gaffney Funeral Homes and Batesville. The FuneralVision.com team salutes the sponsors for stepping up to support such an incredible event and honoring Gober’s vast contributions to the profession.