Growing up on the second floor of his father's funeral home, John Carmon knew the rules about staying quiet on a service day, and when it was or wasn't okay to go downstairs. But it was a conversation in third grade that really drove home the meaning of the family business.
"One of my classmate's father had died, and he told me how great my father had been to his mother when it happened," he says. "He let me know how much it meant to his family."
Carmon's father, Frank W. Carmon Jr., and mother, Nan (Christensen) Carmon, opened the first Carmon Funeral Home in Windsor in 1946. Three of their sons later joined the business, including John, who graduated from the American Academy, McAllister Institute of Funeral Service in New York City. Today, Carmon Community Funeral Homes has eight locations in Avon, Windsor, Granby, Suffield, South Windsor and Vernon.
Carmon says his family's business is built on an empathetic dedication to the people they serve.
"We are invited into people's hearts at the darkest time in their life. It's an awesome responsibility and one we take very seriously," he says. "You have to think – what has this person been through in the last 24 or 48 hours? It's about their needs – not yours – whatever they are."
The Carmons' business is a legacy of genuine caring. Forget spreadsheets and bottom lines; their success is recorded in the volumes of personal letters, which the family's matriarch, Nan Carmon, still preserves.
"We have mountains of thank you notes written to our family," says John Carmon. "My mother keeps them in scrapbooks so we can always see them."
Nan Carmon was also the inspiration for an expansion in services which started 40 years ago.
"In 1972, my dad died, and I saw my mom adjust to becoming a young widow," he says. "That's when we started running seminars for young widows on things like finances, car care, the job market, and taking care of the home."
The workshops, called Begin Again, led to another realization.
"The women who came to these groups wanted to stay afterward and talk to each other. That grew into a support group."
Today, the Carmon family runs groups for widows and widowers alike. In 1994, they became one of only a few funeral homes in the country at the time to employ a full time professional grief counselor. Two years later, they developed a specialized program for the youngest mourners.
"Our support of adults morphed into an understanding that children had unique needs as well," John Carmon explains. "There were already specialized medical centers for children; we wanted to build something similar for their grief and loss."
The result was Mary's Place in Windsor. Opened in 1996, Mary's Place is the shared vision of the Carmon family and Mary Keane, a former oncology nurse-clinician who had begun a small children's grief support group in 1991. Through their collaboration, Carmon and Keane built a center which offers specialized support groups for preschoolers to teenagers dealing with the loss of a parent or sibling.
On Sept. 11, 2001, as the president of the National Funeral Directors Association, Carmon did national media interviews on the wave of loss which swept across the country. He organized volunteers, including his son Matthew, who assisted in the recovery by working two-week shifts in the medical examiner's office and provided many interviews in New York to help people cope and understand the recovery process.
During quiet moments, John Carmon found he could be of tremendous help simply walking the streets of New York and talking with affected families. "There were so many questions being asked. 'I can't find my brother, what do I do?' or 'How can I deal with this?'" he recalls. "They just needed to talk to someone."
Over the last decade, Carmon has traveled the globe on mission trips and to help those dealing with tragedy. While on a trip to Jordan doing educational classes on leadership and family business challenges and strategies, he was interviewed on Good Morning Ahman, to help many Jordanians who had been affected by the tragic loss of life in Ghaza. There he experienced first-hand the difference between freedom of speech in America and the form the media takes elsewhere.
"In that area, to control the TV is to control everything; they don't take chances," he says. "Before I went on, I was fully searched, then I was escorted to the set with armed guards.
John also traveled to Sri Lanka in 2004, arriving in the immediate aftermath of the devastating tsunami. "It was like a war zone, and the local organizations were vehemently refusing help from Americans," he recalled.
Despite the dismal conditions and initial resistance, Carmon's group was able to make headway in the refugee camps.
"We didn't have a set assignment, so we started playing with the kids," he says. "The kids then brought us to their parents, and we were able to find out their needs so that we could help."
The eye-opening experience reinforced his long held beliefs about accountability and involvement.
"People have to care. We have a huge responsibility, both as individuals and collectively, as people and as businesses," he says. "It's the only legacy we can leave. The rest just blows away."
To that end, the Carmon family actively supports the communities they serve. After opening their Avon location in 2005, Carmon became involved with Avon Dollars for Scholars, an organization which gives scholarships to Avon high school graduates. He is the board president and is proud of what the group has been able to accomplish within such a small community. The group has created an endowment of over $200,000, with scholarship awards that last year totaled over $80,000. The Carmon Family and Carmon Funeral Homes have given scholarships in the communities they service since Frank W. Carmon, Jr. died in 1972. This year, they are offering more than 10 awards to deserving students.
Education is a theme Carmon carries into his work with the Salvation Army in Hartford as well. He believes that understanding the diversity of the city and its neighborhoods, and spreading that knowledge to those in a position to help, is the key to recognizing and addressing the needs of the community.
"The generosity is here, as long as people have a chance to realize what is happening five miles away," he said.
As Carmon Community Funeral Homes transitions to the next generation, Carmon is finding time to appreciate those closest to him. He and his wife of 44 years, Linda, recently purchased a vacation home in Florida. With four sons, three daughter-in-laws, and six granddaughters, they made sure there was room for everyone to come and go, insuring years of special times and memories made. For Carmon, his family and his work are blessings.
"Every day I wake up with the chance to help someone," he says. "I thank God for that gift." ?
Name of organization: Carmon Community Funeral Homes, Inc.
Size of organization: Eight Locations in Hartford and Tolland Counties with a crematory; 70 full- and part-time staff members who serve over 1,400 families a year.
Education: Graduate of Loomis School, now Loomis Chaffee in Windsor, and of American Academy McAllister Institute of Funeral Service, New York City. CFSP from Academy of Funeral Service Practice. Honorary Doctor of Humanities from Mount Ida College, Newton, Mass.
Previous job(s): Life guard, Vermont farm hand, lumberjack chainsaw operator, HVAC mechanic, landscaper.
On the job
Guiding business principle: Provide the most caring compassionate service to all we serve, every time, all the time, PERIOD, and value your staff and treat them as if they were members of your family.
Best way to keep your competitive edge: Never waiver in providing the best service at the best value and hire only the best staff in every area of our operation.
Proudest accomplishment: Seeing my sons and nephew carry on our heritage; and servicing diverse cultural, ethnic, and religious communities.
Favorite part of the job: Serving others and mentoring staff.
Least favorite part of the job: Dealing with business issues/ government regulation/ etc.
Most influential business book: Topgrading by Bradford Smart.
Personal touch in your office: Pictures and personal mementos.
Best business decision: Built new main location on Bloomfield Avenue in 1988 with Mt. Laurel Crematory.
Best place to network: Anywhere.
Best way to spot trends: Listen to those you serve.
Next big thing: Major mission trip in Middle East.
Your pet peeve: Clutter.
City of residence: Avon.
Favorite way to relax: On the beach at Anna Maria Island, Fla., with my wife, Linda.
Last vacation: Anna Maria Island.
Favorite movie: Any John Wayne or Rock Hudson/Doris Day movie.
The car you drive: Buick Lacrosse and Harley-Davidson Softail.
Favorite communication device: iPhone.
Currently reading: Authentic Manhood/A Man and His Design.
Favorite cause: Mary's Place, A Center for Grieving Children and Families in Windsor.
Second choice career: Wilderness outfitter/guide.