The saying “better late than never” comes to mind as I begin to write this eulogy to my old friend and former publisher, Mr. Adrian F. Boylston.
Adrian died on August 29, after living a good long 87 years. I was on the phone with Mr. Ed Defort, who was a longtime associate and valued colleague of Adrian’s the other day about some other related business and Ed gently brought up Adrian’s death, and I felt the urgent motivation to once again put pen to paper, to honor this icon in the funeral and cemetery world.
Adrian was the editor, the publisher, the author, the creative thinker, the leader, the guiding light, and the true literary force behind the old and venerable American Funeral Director and American Cemetery magazines that have been around in our beloved profession for decades upon decades.
The magazines were under the umbrella of a company called Kates-Boylston, and my, did that organization pump out some great funeral and cemetery stuff, and pump it out is the operative phrase.
The AFD was the feel-good publication, if you wanted to feel good about your career in either line of endeavor—funeral service or cemetery service.
It was my distinct honor to have worked very closely with first Adrian and then his able associate Mr. Defort for decades, and it was to their combined brains that the series “Funerals of the Famous” was launched with the printing of my first presidential funeral article documenting “The Death and Funeral of President Calvin Coolidge.” That was in the year 1988, and the rest, as they say, is history. (Truth is, the funeral of Calvin Coolidge was a fascinating event, even though President Coolidge may not have qualified as fascinating when he was living.)
From then forward, one article after another was printed, and Adrian and Ed, as my memory served, not once rejected anything that I sent to them, and on top of that, both men were so gracious and complimentary with their kind words and sentiments concerning my work. The truth is, they were much more confident of my abilities as a writer than I was, which ended up being simply such a positive reinforcement for me to keep on putting pen to paper.
Adrian was a kind, gentle human being who loved his family deeply and who lived his dedication and love of our beloved profession with a consistency that most people simply hope for in their lives. Adrian succeeded; he was one of the best friends our profession has ever had, and I count it as my great honor and blessing in my life to have been able to call him my friend.
Here is a great example about Adrian’s love of funeral service, which I hope will warm the reader’s hearts.
Many of you will know and well remember the lady named Miss Jessica Mitford, who in 1963 wrote a book with the title “The American Way of Death.”
I have put this fact in print many times, and I will do it again here. The first time TVB read this book, I broke down in tears. I couldn’t believe it. It was horrible, it was unkind, it was vicious, and most of it was untrue. But then I was a young man, and was not seasoned in the least about defending the profession I know we all love.
However, I still have issues of the American Funeral Director from the mid 1960s in my personal funeral/cemetery service library, and let me assure the reader that Adrian Boylston did not take Jessica’s “stuff” lying down. Editorial after editorial came off Adrian’s typewriter, and it was pure pleasure for a lover of funeral service the likes of TVB to read an eloquent writer who was able to pound back at Jessica and gave it to her as good as she dished it out. Not only that, Adrian recruited the “big guns” in our profession in the mid 1960s to contribute one article after another defending, explaining and standing up for funeral service.
Luminaries in our profession were on the list that Adrian brought into the bunker. The Rev. Dr. Edgar N. Jackson wrote, Prof. Robert Fulton wrote, Dr. Paul Irion wrote, Dr. Robert Slater wrote, Howard Raether wrote, and the list just went on and on with the results being funeral professionals for the first time in this history of their profession could stand up and explain the “whys and wherefores” concerning the psychology, the sociology, the theology and the anthropology of why and how people ethically and emotionally tend and care for their dead. Adrian Boylston was in a great way responsible for printing the truth and substance about funeral service when we were getting hammered intensely.
Fast forward this to the late 1980s. Jessica was at it again, now with a new book with the very creative and original title “The American Way of Death—Revisited.” Trust me, folks, it was the same old ranting and raving that Miss Mitford had done in the 1960s, but how she had a companion writer named Karen Leonard.
When I read “Revisited,” I concluded that Miss Mitford had indeed lost her touch, which I still believe to be true. You can only use the “let’s make fun of the undertakers” approach so often and before it moves from public interest to public yawns.
With all this lead up, I want to finish by now telling you just how much fun Adrian fun.
Shortly after the second Mitford funeral book hit the streets, I ran into Adrian at some big convention (I don’t remember which one as they all blur in my brain these days). Adrian and I, and a few of our funeral buddies went into a bar, ordered our refreshments and off we went on Jessica Mitford.
My friends, it was a pure mental health session. We were wicked, unmerciful, biting, critical, insulting and over about three hours just took Miss Mitford up one side and down the other, with Adrian and his manifest history leading the way. Some of the accounts Adrian told about Miss Mitford had me laughing so hard I was crying tears of joy. It is always a pleasureable treat to hang out with other people who love our profession.
Mr. Adrian F. Boylston, may you rest in peace. Mr. Adrian F. Boylston, what an honor it was to be your friend. Mr. Adrian F. Boylston, what a joy it was to work with you, and now, my dear friend, please know that your memory lives on in the hearts of those who, like you ,have a true love affair with funeral service.
Lord only knows how many people Adrian Boylston left his mark on; I know I feel my mark every day.