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Robert J. Inman, a Man Who Changed Everything

Todd Van Beck's picture

I was blessed to have been associated for many years with Robert Inman. Sadly, Bob died recently and I felt inspired to pen some thoughts about this great human being.

My memories of Bob Inman basically start the day I started working at the Heafey & Heafey Mortuary in Omaha. Whenever Heafey’s received an out-of-town death call and, say, the decedent was living in Bangor, Maine, and the family wanted to bring their loved one back home for burial, a call was made to Inman International Shipping. Even before I was introduced to Bob, I knew that what he and his company were doing was highly important, it was clear that they did an outstanding job and, most of all, his vision made the day-to-day life of people like TVB much easier.

Of course, this was in the mid to late 1960s, and to be sure I never thought that I would ever meet Bob, let alone build a friendship with him, but life has its surprises.

By the early 1980s, I was on the faculty of the Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science, and my job was clinical supervisor, which translated into overseeing the embalming lab, back in those days located in the back of the old famous CCMS building at 3200 Reading Road. And part of the clinical supervisor’s responsibilities was to take a position on the Board of Directors of the Ohio Embalmers Association, and so a board member I became.

I went to Columbus for my first OEA Board meeting and there in the room was Robert J. Inman. For a guy like me, meeting Bob was like meeting a movie star. I know I must have mumbled something stupid as I usually do when I am stressed and intimidated, but Bob was—as he always was—the consummate gentleman.

Our friendship began in earnest, and now that Bob has passed away, I look back at a myriad of life experiences and feel mighty thankful he was a presence in my life.

On top of my work with the great Ohio Embalmers Association, I got tapped in the late 1980s by Jake Dodge to present at the well-known Dodge Sunshine Seminars, and usually Bob and Marylyn would be in attendance.

Even when I bombed, Bob always had a good word, and his sincerity was so authentic that I actually left some of these public snafus with the thought that I had done much better than I actually had. Such is the power of the good word from one human being to another!

I remember one infamous Dodge Seminar when I was up on stage babbling on and on about the advances in embalming chemistry and out of the blue I blurted out the word “glutaraldehyde!” The minute I said it I froze, almost threw up, and looked in the back of the room, where stood Jake Dodge with his arms folded. How stupid could I have been? I’m at a Dodge meeting and am up there talking about a chemical from Champion.

Jake Dodge never said one word, and fortunately I was invited back, and for that I am mighty thankful. However, it was Bob Inman who really saved my mental health that day. Bob walked over, shook my hand and simply said, “This was a very good session, you did good.” I could have hugged him. Such was the kindness of Robert J. Inman.

Bob was certainly a master in the art and science of embalming and funeral service. He was truly in a league of his own, both technically and personally. I think that there are probably not many funeral operations worldwide who have not been influenced by the pioneering work of Robert J. Inman.

Before Bob dove into transportation and support service, each funeral home was basically on its own in shipping bodies both stateside and internationally. Bob revolutionized this entire system, and for that alone his legacy should never be forgotten in our beloved profession.

Years later when I was operating a mortuary college, I was finally able to attempt to return the graciousness that Bob had afforded me over the years. I invited him to be our graduation speaker, and we were able to give him an honorary degree. Of course Bob did a great job in speaking about funeral service, because he truly loved it, and that one fact alone usually makes all the difference in the world when people are communicating the values, purpose and benefits of our noble profession.

Here and there, now and then, just once in a while, I have encountered people in my life who leave an indelible impression, and Bob Inman certainly was one of those individuals.

Bob never talked down to anybody. He was patient, had at great wit, called it as he saw it and let his actions and devotion to his company’s mission do much of the talking for him. He never was condescending, always was a gentleman and when others made mistakes, he just passed over them and made people feel appreciated and respected.

I was sad when David Hicks told me of Bob’s death. I was not surprised, because I knew that Bob had health issues, but I was certainly sad. Our beloved profession has indeed lost an icon. Bob was one of a kind, and he certainly left the world of embalming excellence in much better shape than when he found it so many years ago as a simple trade embalmer in Cleveland, Ohio.

I believe this is what the sages over the centuries have called “professional immortality.”

As with all tributes, we could write endlessly about Bob’s impact, his worthy contributions to funeral service, his gentleness and humbleness as a human being and his deep loving devotion to his family and his friends. Knowing Bob Inman over the years goes down as one of the greatest privileges I have had in my life. Privilege is truly the right word to use.

Thank you, Mr. Inman. You fought the good fight, now the battle is won. Your memory will live on. You have attained rightful professional immortality in our beloved profession. Farewell. TVB