Monroe James Edwards Sr. consoled many Memphis families in the loss of their loved ones. Thursday morning, the proprietor of M.J. Edwards Funeral Home passed away at home, surrounded by his family. He was 92.
Monroe James Edwards Jr. reflected on how much his father loved the funeral business because he loved people so much.
“My father was still going to the funeral home six days a week and church on Sunday,” said Edwards Jr. “Of course, he wasn’t directing funerals anymore, but he enjoyed going over to the funeral home and greeting the families. And he liked talking about how things were ‘in the old days.’ He has known many of those families 50 years or more. We felt it was good for him mentally to stay active in the business he loved so much. That was his baby.”
Like so many in the early 1900s, Edwards came up from Mississippi, a sharecropper who was the son of a sharecropper, living in the town of Sumner. He was born October 23, 1926.
In 1945, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served overseas in World War II. He came back and finished high school at Melrose, since he had left school to enlist. When he was discharged, the whole family joined him in Memphis. J.S. Edwards, Edwards’ father, moved the family to Orange Mound. In those days, residents referred to the community as “Orange Mound, Tennessee.”
Edwards’ father bought Davis Funeral Home, along with some partners, and the name was changed to Victory Funeral Home in 1947. J.S. Edwards died in 1966 and left strict instructions for his son.
“At Victory Funeral Home, my grandfather started families on funeral prepayment plans,” said Monroe Jr. “He told my father that ‘if you signed your name to the prepaid policy, you must honor that.’ And my grandfather told my father he didn’t care if a funeral cost had gone way over what they paid. If a family came in with those early, pre-paid policies, we would honor them at M.J. Edwards. And we’ve had families bring them. We always honored them.”
Edwards Jr. said his father ran a funeral home “for the people.”
“He ran a business, but the funeral home was for the people. When they had a loved one to die, they would come to the funeral home. Sometimes they would have the money. Many times, they wouldn’t.”
Business was built on “the $295 special,” he said.
“You could get a complete funeral for $295. Funerals were $295 and up. Sometimes people wouldn’t even have that. They paid what they could, and my father would give them credit. Sometimes he got paid, and sometimes he didn’t. But he didn’t worry about it. He was running a business, but he wanted to serve people. That was important to him.”
M.J. Edwards Funeral Home now operates in three Memphis-area locations.
A funeral service is scheduled for March 22 at New Salem Baptist Church, 2237 S. Parkway East, at 11 a.m. Interment will be immediately after the service at Memorial Park Cemetery on Poplar Ave.