The reception room at Robinson Funeral Home where mortician Samuel Reid Jr. met thousands of black families over 61 years in the funeral business was packed Monday.
People came in and out and talked. The phone rang a hundred times. This was a room where Reid sat patiently countless times and listened until all the tears had fallen and the conversations of lives lived were finished. Then Reid almost always, come funeral day, climbed into the first car of the procession to drive the family to the grave site - just like he did Saturday.
But there was something missing Monday. Reid, for the first time since 1949, was not there in the room. This man with the signature smile and calm way was missing. Samuel Reid - perhaps York County's longest continuously serving mortician, who buried so many black people in Rock Hill - lay in the next room.
Sunday, a day after helping a family, after driving in a funeral, Reid died.
"Nobody like Reid," said John Ramseur, 75, owner and general manager of the business who worked with Reid the past 50 years.
"He came to get me help with the tents for the cemetery when I was just a kid, and I am still helping," said Hazel Reid, a nephew. "I'm 72 years old."
Officially, the coroner's office said Reid was 81 years old, but Hazel Reid said his uncle was older and guarded his age like a gold treasure.
"Sam lied about his age so he could join the military and serve in World War II," Hazel Reid said. "He was too young but he wanted to go."
Next year, the funeral home will celebrate 100 years in service, and Reid spent 61 of those years working with the Robinson and Ramseur families. Reid went to mortuary school in Philadelphia and started working in 1949 at Robinson's when it was called People's Undertaking Company. That was a day and time when families waked the dead in living rooms and caskets were sometimes carried by mules and wagons to rural houses. Reid was famous for not just embalming, but for the ability to do hair and makeup to the exact details that a family wanted.
Reid was a mentor to generations of morticians, said Christopher Culp, 25, the newest member of Rock Hill's embalming fraternity. Reid buried people when Harry Truman was president, he buried people when Barack Obama was president and all of the presidents in between.
"I spent the last half-century working with Samuel Reid, and if there is anyone who did more funerals here, helped more people, I sure don't know who they are," John Ramseur said. "He was a friend and trusted man who people knew would treat them like his own family."
Funeral arrangements are incomplete, but there are plenty of people who loved Samuel Reid at Robinson Funeral Home who are helping to get him ready for his funeral - and they are planning for a throng.
"Mr. Reid's manner with the people who used this funeral home was unmatched," said Monique Ramseur, John Ramseur's daughter and the mortician in charge of the funeral home these days, as well as the emotionally difficult job of readying her co-worker Reid for burial.
Besides a lifetime of embalming and burying the dead, Reid, the veteran, was an active member at St. Mary's Catholic Church. Reid never married and had no biological children, yet he had children he helped for years, said John Ramseur. Reid also spent decades as a Scoutmaster. Yet just like he never missed daily breakfast at Red's Grill right up until Sunday, Reid never considered retiring from the funeral business he loved.
"He loved this place and what he did here," Ira Reid, another nephew, said of Robinson Funeral Home.
Samuel Reid was no politician, but along with John Ramseur, Reid was among the most well-known faces to families in his city.
"When a family saw Samuel Reid here, they knew they were getting the best," John Ramseur said. "Now it is our turn to serve him. And we will."