Morticians also unhappy about Dole comparison Funeral directors say articles perpetuate stereotype as old, dour

Campaign 1996

February 09, 1996|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

Bob Dole didn't like being compared to a mortician by Time and Newsweek, but he wasn't nearly as angry as the funeral directors.

"It's terrible," Russell Witzke, a Catonsville funeral home owner, says about the news magazine articles. "It's just people trying to get some headlines. It's sort of a silly comparison when you think about. It makes me mad."

The comparisons followed the Republican presidential candidate's response to President Clinton's State of the Union address two weeks ago, and quickly spread to other publications.

"The National Mortician, brusque, impenetrable, embalmed by Washington, who looks like it hurts to smile," Time inveighed. "Dole looked like a funeral director, not a front runner," Newsweek said.

But funeral directors say the comparison unfairly stereotypes them as old, dull and dark-suited. Mr. Witzke points out that his funeral home staff is mostly young and about half are women. And while a dark suit is standard, being dour doesn't make for good business. Better to be upbeat, in touch, "caring, compassionate, sympathetic," Mr. Witzke said.

Some morticians suggest that Mr. Dole couldn't make it in their business. For one thing, he loves to talk bluntly about the blood and guts of the legislative process, while a good funeral director specializes in euphemisms. In mortuaries, "death" is called "need," and people don't die -- they "pass."

Melanie Wagoner, the cheery 31-year-old owner of Advent Funeral Services in Annapolis, notes that funeral homes are attracting nontraditional candidates because of good pay and job security. A survey of managerial occupations by Cognetics Inc. of Massachusetts found that the best jobs are in funeral parlor management.

"It used to be that a lot of funeral directors were pasty, but not anymore," says Ms. Wagoner, a licensed funeral director since 1992. "My husband is a funeral director, and he's a very good-looking guy."

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