Funeral home sale ends one family's run, begins another

Wright's Home for Funerals in Chester has been sold to Rocky and Angela Pollard, a Spartanburg couple who have plans to move to Chester County.
Wright's Home for Funerals in Chester has been sold to Rocky and Angela Pollard, a Spartanburg couple who have plans to move to Chester County.

CHESTER -- Pris Wright wasn't selling.

Her husband, Watson, died in 2005, leaving Pris in charge of the funeral home she married into. The business, which dates back to 1911, had been owned by the Wright family since 1945.

But Pris Wright's two grown children had moved away and weren't taking over the funeral home. Her husband told her before he died that she should sell the business, which often pulled her away at a moment's notice and forced her to stay near a telephone.

She wasn't having it -- until last week.

That's when Pris finally sold the family business to the Pollards, a Spartanburg family looking to buy a business just like Wright's Home for Funerals.

"It was just a feeling I had that they were the ones," Pris said.

She hadn't had such a feeling since the death of her husband, who served as Chester County's coroner for 16 years and made a living helping others cope with death.

Sure, she'd had seven offers for the funeral home. A chain business was interested, but Pris wanted a family to own it. And when a Columbia family wanted to buy Wright's, the group wanted to operate it from out of town.

That won't do, either, Pris thought. Folks who come to a Chester funeral home want to deal with local people.

"This has been my whole life," she said. "I just wanted my family to be proud of what I've done."

Rocky and Angela Pollard came calling in September.

Rocky Pollard had admired funeral workers since childhood. His father died when he was 9, his grandmother died when he was 10 and his grandfather died when he was 11. He watched the folks at the funeral home bring chairs to the house and help his mother with arrangements.

"I saw what was done for my family," he said. "I admired them for what they did."

He started working at funeral homes when he was in his mid-20s and opened one in Spartanburg in 1984. He later sold the business to a Texas chain.

He worked for that company for several years, but the chain's philosophy wasn't his.

"I wanted to do things the way the hometown people wanted," Pollard said, meaning no cookie-cutter formula for dealing with families. He said the role of the funeral home is to help people find some sense of normalcy amid a worldwind of emotions. Every family is different.

After leaving the chain, Pollard worked for another funeral business in Duncan while continuing to serve as a Spartanburg firefighter.

But he wanted to open his own business again, and Wright's provided that opportunity.

"I have a calling to help people," Rocky said, referring to his work in firehouses and funeral homes. "That's my reason for being on this earth."

Rocky said everything fell into place for the move. His house sold in four days, despite a sluggish housing market. The people who bought his house were kind enough to wait until the Pollards' children, ages 9 and 12, finished school before moving in.

And Rocky was eligible to retire from the fire department in May. Now, his family is searching for a home in Chester.

For Pris, selling wasn't easy. Her husband's father, L.C. Wright Jr., had purchased the company in 1945, back when it was still on Gadsden Street. In 1953, the family moved the business to its home on York Street, inside an old parsonage. Watson's older brother, Clarkie, ran the business until he died in 1977.

Then it became just Watson and Pris' place. And so much history is hard to part with.

But a major selling point, Pris said, was Angela Pollard's desire to work at the funeral home. Watson's mother was the first woman in Chester County to have a funeral director's license. Over the years, Pris stood by Watson, answering phones and helping him handle two 24/7 jobs.

She remembers going out with Watson in his younger days and telling his mother everywhere they went. That way, if death's call came, Wright's mother would call wherever they were and ask for Watson. Pris remembers leaving movie theaters mid-picture so Watson could go to work.

She saw communication change in the form of two-way radios, then pagers, then cell phones.

Now, Pris said she's ready to put down the cell phone she's taken everywhere since she took over for her husband three years ago. She has a 9-month-old grandchild she wants to spend more time with.

But the Wright legacy won't soon be forgotten.

The company sign says Wright-Pollard Funeral Home.