LAURINBURG — After four generations of ownership by the McDougald family, one of Laurinburg’s oldest businesses will soon have a new leader at its helm — and a new driver behind the wheel of its iconic Model T hearse.
In his 43rd year in the funeral business, Beacham McDougald announced this week that McDougald Funeral Home and Crematorium will change hands in the coming months. The new owner, Sherrill Bumgarner of Troy, is moving to Laurinburg to continue the funeral home’s almost 150-year tradition of local ownership.
“Sherrill has three generations of his family, counting his son now, in funeral service,” McDougald said. “I don’t have another generation and it’s going to be, I think, the perfect fit.”
The family’s enterprise traces its beginnings from the mid 1850s when M. A. McDougald and a partner operated “McDougald and Currie,” specializing in general merchandise, hardware, and coffins in Antioch.
The business ended at the outbreak of the Civil War, and in 1865 M. A. McDougald moved his family to the community now known as Laurinburg to work with the railroad. In 1881 he began “M. A. McDougald, Furniture and Undertaking” on South Main Street. He was followed by his three sons Dan, Will, and John. John continued the business following the deaths of his brothers assisted by his children Christine and Hewitt — Beacham McDougald’s father.
But the family’s last scion came to the profession in a roundabout way after he began studying chemistry with the intention of becoming a pharmacist. Short on money between semesters, his father put him to work in the family business.
“I fell in love with it,” McDougald said, adding that he does not intend to retire in the foreseeable future.
“I want to work until 100 if they’ll have me — I love what I’m doing and I love people. I’ll be interested in coming to work and not having to make the decisions.”
The funeral home moved to its current location in 1958.
In the intervening years, McDougald Funeral Home has become inextricable from points of local lore, from its acquisition of the first motorized hearse in North Carolina to its house mummy Spaghetti — the remains of an Italian carnival worker, who was left at the funeral home in 1911 and remained unclaimed by his family until his burial in 1972.
Beacham McDougald himself has added his own touches to the business, as a connoisseur of local history and fashioner of handmade wooden urns.
“I feel a personal and moral obligation to my heritage and to the faithful people of Laurinburg to find a successor that will continue to serve this community as my family has done for so many generations,” McDougald said.
“I love being here and helping my friends. I just needed to make sure this business lived beyond me. Sherrill will be in charge but I believe so much in his commitment to people and service that I am going to enjoy being part of a team for a change.”
McDougald’s professional relationship with Bumgardner spans 30 years, and it was the Montgomery County native with an affinity for small town service that came to mind when he considered the future of the business he has nurtured for four decades.
“I’ve worked at a funeral home that did a thousand funerals a year in Greensboro, and this is what I love: the small town where you know everybody and you know what you’ve got to do to look after people,” said Bumgarner.
Bumgarner came by the ambition to become a funeral director at a young age. When he was eight, he started shadowing his mother Dot, who ultimately became manager at Lanier–Briggs Funeral Home in Candor, and as a high school senior he penned a term paper on the responsibilities of a funeral director.
“Funeral service is changing rapidly and the foundation of innovation that Beacham has laid just sets the stage for a level of personalization I have always dreamed of,” he said. “The best part is that I will be able to work side-by-side with my long time friend.”
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.