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Heads You Win…

Legacy.com / Nick Ehrhardt

Heads You Win…

As Black History Month winds to a close, Legacy contributor Susan Soper shares a fascinating obituary for a funeral director who handled the final arrangements for African-American luminaries Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Paul Robeson and Alvin Ailey, among others. In more than 60 years directing services at the Harlem funeral home his father founded, George Bernard Benta made all families – famous or not – feel welcome, and became famous himself for his philosophies on life.

George Bernard Benta (New York Times)
George Bernard Benta
(New York Times)

A friend in New York forwarded me an obituary, featured on The New York Times’ City Room blog, for a funeral director who specialized in personal, colorful and respectful services in the Harlem home his father opened in 1928.

George Bernard Benta buried celebrities and unknowns with equanimity, professionalism and in keeping with the personal philosophies he was famous for among family members and neighbors. He was a dapper dresser – maybe even “flashy” as the obituary says – but never tastelessly so. As Kia Gregory writes, he was a “stickler” for good conduct and held himself and others to the highest standards. The obituary reveals an elegant and dignified send-off worthy of the man.

And who would not want to read more about a man whose funeral program included this personal motto on the back:

God gave us two ends: one to sit on; one to think with. Success depends on which one you use. Heads you win, tails you lose.


Susan Soper is the author of ObitKit™, A Guide to Celebrating Your Life. A lifelong journalist, she has been a reporter with Newsday, writer for CNN, and Features Editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she launched a series called "Living with Grief."