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Charlottetown's Vince Murnaghan retiring after fulfilling career with Hillsboro Funeral Home

Vince Murnaghan is retiring after 25 years as general manager of the Hillsborough Funeral Home in Stratford. He helped build the co-operative funeral home from humble beginnings to a successful business.
Vince Murnaghan is retiring after 25 years as general manager of the Hillsborough Funeral Home in Stratford. He helped build the co-operative funeral home from humble beginnings to a successful business. - Jim Day

Death can create clashes, and Vince Murnaghan has seen his share.

Murnaghan, who is retiring after a quarter century as general manager of the Hillsboro Funeral Home, says families do not always see eye to eye on how best to bury Uncle Johnny or dear old grandma.

He says one of the most difficult situations in his business arises when families have strongly conflicting views on how they want the funeral handled. In such cases, he takes on the role of mediator – and good listener – to help reach agreement.

“A lot of time it’s a money issue because Jack is saying, ‘ok, let’s give Dad the Cadillac (package)’ and Jill is saying, ‘no, we’re just going to give him the Volkswagen,’ ’’ he says.

Murnaghan helped get the province’s fifth funeral co-operative off the ground by building a business plan and seeking out financing. He started doing funerals, visitations and accounting on a part-time basis while still carrying out his job as GM of the Home Hardware in Stratford, which closed its doors in 2015.

Growing the business, which had no funerals in its first year in 1992 and did not have its own building until 1998, was a real challenge.

“All I could do was hope that some families would put their confidence and trust in us to be able to conduct a funeral and a visitation in professional way,’’ says Murnaghan.

He learned the ropes: what to do and what not to do; what to say and what not to say.

“Number one is you are here for the family,’’ he says.

“You are working with a family that is at the very lowest point of their lives: they’ve lost a loved one. There’s nothing that can be lower than that.’’

“I’ve always said I’ve never gone to work one day. There is so much fulfilment, personal satisfaction comes out of this, I can’t measure it.’’

Vince Murnaghan

Murnaghan has witnessed funerals evolve over his many years at Hillsborough Funeral Home into more of a celebration of life than a grim farewell.

He also marvels at the reverence Islanders have for death. Wakes typically draw large crowds, including people whomay have little or no connection to the deceased or the grieving family. The tradition of pulling to the side of the road as a funeral procession passes is also alive and well in the province.

“The respect that we have on P.E.I., in particular, is just amazing, fantastic, wonderful generally speaking – just the respect we have for a human being,’’ says Murnaghan.

At 69, Murnaghan is ready to join his wife, Gloria, who was a cook at Mount St. Mary’s for 43 years, in retirement. He will spend the next couple of months helping with the transition as Shawn MacLean takes over the reins.

He believes he is leaving the Hillsboro Funeral Home, which had a peak of 101 funerals in 2014, on a strong footing.

He also describes his career in the funeral business as extremely gratifying.

“I couldn’t put a dollar amount on it – just fantastic,’’ he says.

“I’ve always said I’ve never gone to work one day. There is so much fulfilment, personal satisfaction comes out of this, I can’t measure it.’’

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