When James F. Mackey opened a funeral parlor on East Washington Street in 1872, the city of Greenville, population 5,000 or so, was only three years old.
President Ulysses S. Grant was in his second term, and the South was struggling to rebuild from the devastation wrought by the Civil War.
In such tumultuous times, Mackey established a firm that would bring comfort and compassion to generations of Greenville families. Described as a man “of exceptionally high character” who had a “gift and genius for friendship,” Mackey’s legacy of trust and connection has endured changes in funeral practices and customs and decades of seismic events that have shaped both Greenville and the wider world.
Through all that history, the heart of the business has remained the same: helping people navigate the death of a loved one.
It’s a calling Edd Sheriff saw firsthand at an early age.
​​He was in the fifth grade when a big car pulled up outside his family’s home in the middle of the night. Two men got out of the car and entered the house.
“I was frightened with all the commotion that was going on,” Sheriff recalls. “I found out that these two men immediately just calmed the family, and those two men, of course, were funeral directors.”
That was the night his mother died, and the experience inspired what would become his lifelong career.
“In the back of my mind, I just always thought I would like to be like those guys were when they came in the house and just put everybody at ease and did away with pandemonium,” Sheriff says.
Next year marks his 60th working at what is now Mackey Funerals and Cremations at Century Drive, and Sheriff considers himself fortunate to have spent those decades with a firm so deeply rooted in the community.
“Mackey has always represented dignity and integrity,” he says.
That integrity continued, even after the business passed out of the hands of the Mackey family.
Fletcher Kirkland and Harold Lowery purchased the venerable business when Arthur Mackey, one of James F.’s heirs, died in 1952.
Kirkland joined Mackey in the 1940s when one of James F. Mackey’s sons was the owner. One night, when Kirkland was about 17 and out on his bicycle delivering Western Union telegrams, Arthur Mackey crashed into him with his car, then promised the young man a job once he recovered.
That story comes from Kirkland’s son, Fletcher Jr., who also grew up around the business. When he was 15 years old, he worked for his father, riding the cemetery truck, helping with flowers, erecting tents, and setting up chairs. 
“I just look at it as a real service to people and an opportunity to be of some value, in particular when they have no idea what kind of arrangements to make, how to move forward, or what to do,” he says.
Sheriff says the continuity and connection Mackey represents to the families it serves has remained constant despite changes in attitudes about funerals. 
For instance, Sheriff says when he first started, funerals typically involved large gatherings of friends and family and cremations were rare. Today, cremations are common and funeral gatherings involve much smaller crowds — sometimes just a handful of people. 
These are shifts a new generation has inherited as it continues the Mackey legacy.
Matt James started in the funeral business in 1989 — yet another generation who took career inspiration from his father. James joined Mackey in 2004 and now manages the staff of 25 as Greenville area manager.
He has seen a number of changes since joining the company, including the addition of a second location, Mackey Funerals and Cremations at Woodlawn Memorial Park at 1 Pine Knoll Drive, Greenville. The location was recently renovated and is located adjacent to the historic cemetery at the corner of North Pleasantburg Drive and Wade Hampton Boulevard.
James says the expansion and renovation of facilities will help the company meet the evolving needs of families and changes within the funeral business. Most recently, the pandemic’s requirements for social distancing necessitated the use of technology to serve where face-to-face interactions were limited or not possible.
Today, arrangements can be made through virtual meetings, documents signed electronically, memorial services live-streamed and keepsakes preserved and shared digitally, anywhere, any time.
“We all want to reach out and hug and help someone in the time of need,” James says, while predicting that for Mackey’s next 150 years, “We’re going to be there to offer service in a way to bring everybody together — it doesn’t matter how far they are away that we can bring everybody together.”
John Jeter contributed to this article.

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