Edward James Weber, 71, owned funeral homes

March 23, 1997|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

Edward James Weber, a second-generation funeral director PTC who tried to enhance the image of morticians and get families more involved in the services of loved ones, died Wednesday of diabetes at the University of Maryland Medical Center. He was 71.

A lifelong Baltimore resident, Mr. Weber had been a mortician since 1952 and believed that relatives should talk and share good memories when someone dies, not just mourn their loss.

"He'd get the family looking at pictures and making collages," said his daughter-in-law, Kathleen A. Weber of Perry Hall. "He'd challenge them and didn't let them withdraw. He didn't let them focus on the pain.

"He made everyone understand that death was a part of life. He wasn't the Grim Reaper who came to their homes," she said.

A jovial man with a quick and easy smile, Mr. Weber took over his father's business, the John M. Weber & Sons Inc. Funeral Home in Fells Point, in 1952 and in 1960 opened the Edward J. Weber Funeral Home in Catonsville. Both locations flourished.

Richard O'Donnell, a friend, said Mr. Weber would often sit and talk with grieving families for long periods.

"Most of the time it wasn't about the person who died," Mr. O'Donnell said. "He'd go there to make arrangements, but they'd get into all kinds of conversations -- the Orioles, politics, music, whatever. He seemed to naturally take their minds off of grieving."

Born in East Baltimore and one of 11 siblings, Mr. Weber never finished high school and enlisted in the Navy in 1942 during World War II.

He was discharged in 1946, and, despite his father's established mortuary business, he chose to work as an electrician at Bethlehem Steel's Sparrow's Point plant.

He married Dolores Tongiani in 1949.

"He wanted to show his father that he could make it on his own," said a son, David K. Weber of Perry Hall. "That was important to him."

Mr. Weber was president of the Maryland State Funeral Directors Association.

He also helped in the creation of the state's only mortuary science program, which began at Catonsville Community College in 1973.

Despite the perception of the funeral business as melancholy, Mr. Weber experienced several lighter moments.

About 15 years ago, he went to an East Baltimore home to pick up the body an elderly man. A boy in the house who was about 6 asked his mother where his grandfather's body was going. "He's going to heaven to be with God," Kathleen Weber recalled the boy's mother saying as Mr. Weber took the body to a hearse.

Later, during the family visitation at the funeral home, the boy kept a close eye on Mr. Weber, grinning widely and often following him. Mr. Weber didn't know why until the mother explained that the boy thought Mr. Weber was God because he had taken the boy's grandfather away. "Dad had to sit down explain to him that he wasn't God," his daughter in-law said. "He was just the person handling the funeral."

Mr. Weber retired in 1991.

He was a member of the Sons of Italy-Little Italy Chapter, Cardinal Gibbons and Patapsco Councils of the Knights of Columbus and the Holy Rosary Catholic War Veterans. He belonged to the St. Agnes Diabetic Support Group and was a board member of the Amputee Association of Maryland.

Services will be at 10 a.m. tomorrow at St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church, St. Agnes Lane and Old Frederick Road.

In addition to his wife and son, he is survived by two more sons, Edward J. Weber Jr. of Reisterstown and Michael J. Weber of Catonsville; nine sisters, Anna Skalski, Theresa Glaser and Veronica Damesyn, all of Baltimore, Rita Dossa of Salisbury, Rose Iampieri of Columbia, Elizabeth Kuchta of Forest Hills, Dorothy Ott of Arkansas, Geraldine Holter of Ocean City and Regina Miller of Bel Air.

Pub Date: 3/23/97

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