HISTORY of Lee’s Funeral Home, LLC, White Plains, NY
Having celebrated turning 100 years old in 2015, Lee's Funeral Home, LLC has a long history, has served and comforted families with dignity, trained and educated many, and is a solid presence and treasure in the history and community of White Plains, and lives of families we've served.
Theodore Jay Lee, Sr., founder of Lee’s Funeral Home, was born in Lynchburg, Virginia. He attended the Lynchburg school system, and beginning around the ages of 9 and 10 he would help the local "undertaker," Mr. Higginbottom, by doing light chores. Thus, at an early age, Theodore's interest was in "undertaking." After graduating from high school, he attended Hampton Institute for one year in Hampton, Virginia. Later, he attended Virginia Seminary. Then Theodore left Virginia and moved first to New York City, NY, then several years later, to North Tarrytown, NY. Here he attended the Foster Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church, where he befriended Mr. Thomas Colbert, a member of the church, and also a licensed undertaker, who was in the partnership of THORNTON & COLBERT Funeral Directing Company. Through this acquaintance, he renewed his interest in the funeral business.
For some time he helped Thornton and Colbert. Later he attended Renouard School For Embalming in New York City, graduated, and eventually received his license. Shortly thereafter, he went into partnership with Thornton and Colbert. After Mr. Thornton's death, the name of the funeral home was changed to COLBERT & LEE. In the late 1920's Mr. Lee moved to White Plains, NY where he was in charge of the White Plains office at 57 Brookfield Street, while Mr. Colbert maintained the Tarrytown office. Soon, the COLBERT-LEE partnership gained another partner, Mr. Adams, and even later, Mr. George D. Matthews, managers in the Yonkers, NY office. So, there were three offices, Tarrytown, White Plains and Yonkers.
Mr. Colbert died, and left to carry on the business were Lee, Matthews and Adams. Soon after the death of Mr. Adams, the business was known for a while as LEE & MATTHEWS Funeral Home, in White Plains and Yonkers. The White Plains office soon moved to 131 Brookfield Street, from 57 Brookfield Street. The partnership was to expand for a while to Ossining and Mt. Vernon, NY, where Lemuel B. Mills was the manager. This set-up lasted for some time until stricter state laws, rules and regulations were put into effect concerning embalming schools, for funeral homes. Due to this, only licensed personnel could be in charge of each funeral home office. As Mr. Lee was the only licensee, the partnership soon dissolved and all offices except White Plains were terminated. They moved from 131 Brookfield Street to 203 Brookfield Street, the newly purchased property known as LEE'S FUNERAL HOME. Mr. Lee received a divorce from his first wife, and later remarried Mattie. Though unlicensed. she proved of great assistance to her husband in the business, helping in every possible way.
They had a son, Theodore "Ted", who would turn out to be the second generation of funeral service. He graduated from White Plains High School, attended New York University, served in the military, then attended mortuary school, receiving his funeral directing license in 1962, and joined his father in the business. With Urban Renewal in White Plains, Lee's Funeral Home moved to 133-135 Fisher Avenue in September 1967.
Ted married Jo Anne, of Peekskill, NY, a registered nurse. She later attended and graduated, cum laude, from American Academy McAllister Institute of Funeral Service, Inc. in New York City. Jo Anne received her funeral directing license and immediately joined her husband and father-in-law in the family business. After Theodore Jay Lee, Sr. died in 1969, Ted & Jo Anne continued to operate the funeral home, with Ted’s mother who gradually retired, though not completely, helping now and then. They would also go on to grow their own family, having daughter Jennifer and son T.J.
In 1978, a fire at the house next door to the funeral home spread to the funeral home, causing more damage than to the building in which the fire originated. Having been offered help and the use of their facilities by all the local funeral homes, the Ernestine M. Wright Funeral Home, at 160 Fisher Avenue, was the most convenient choice from which to work. Mrs. Etrusia Levister, sister of the deceased Ernestine M. Wright, cooperated fully with us in offering the use of her facilities. For months, both funeral homes operated separately, yet together, from the same edifice.
In 1979, the Ernestine M. Wright Funeral Home building was purchased by LEE'S FUNERAL HOME, with the understanding that the Ernestine M. Wright Funeral Home would continue functioning until March 16,1981, at which time the Wright Funeral Home would terminate their operation. Once again, Lee's Funeral Home had relocated.
Once more we pulled ourselves up by the bootstraps and we started 63 years of business over again after about three or four years of fire and water damage, which had interrupted the family tradition of service to the community.
With the new stability, Lee’s Funeral Home and the Lee Family began to prosper. Daughter Jennifer Lee graduated, Dean's List, from the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, earning two baccalaureate degrees in just four years. After living abroad in Mexico, Jennifer decided to go to school for funeral service so she could continue the family business. Graduating Summa Cum Laude in August of 1995 from the American Academy McAllister Institute of Funeral Service, in New York City, NY, she soon began her residency with the family's funeral home, and in October 1996, Jennifer became a licensed funeral director in New York State. Also in 1996, an addition was made to the funeral home name, becoming LEE'S FUNERAL HOME, LLC. Financial and estate planning has been continually updated within the Lee family, as major renovations and repairs were made within and about the building, including creating and paving a parking lot where there was none. We were blessed with, and continue to welcome, licensed funeral directors assisting over the years (who may now have come and gone), including Jimmy Warren, Jr. (also an attorney, retired Chief of Police), Janet Cartwright, Linda Hardge, Marian C. Robinson, and most recently Ms. Casey V.C. St. Val, to name a few, and we hope to welcome and train a new resident starting later this year.
So, in this, our 100th year in business, we look back positively from whence we came, promisingly at where we are, and progressively at where we are going. We continue with our community involvement and contributions, both in time and money, to various local churches, community centers, service programs, and charitable organizations. We have increased our focus on preplanning as a way for families to be proactive, as opposed to crisis oriented, to prepare for the inevitable as a way of reducing stress and grief, and better facilitating the mourning process and all that is involved in arranging a funeral. Jennifer Lee has a particular interest in this area, and with the knowledge and education she receives, tries to impart that to the families we serve and the community as a whole. She is always available to give preplanning seminars, free of charge, to anyone progressive enough to allow it, and has spoken at various churches, centers, and major corporate business. She is continually educating herself, to remain at the top in her field, and has been duly recognized as such by being nominated, elected, and/or appointed as an officer and/or board member to various funeral service associations and the state advisory board.
Jo Anne also strongly believes in education and preplanning, and after getting her B.S. in psychology from Mercy College, she can now include "author" to her many credits, having written a book, based on all her experience, to help families. Her book entitled "Three Things To Know Before Making Funeral Arrangements" is currently available. Being a cancer survivor, and now semi-retired, she started attending and is now an Ambassador for our local Gilda’s Club, uses her testimony to encourage others, and started a Cancer Ministry in our church.
Ted Lee is also semi-retired, with his daily participation and responsibilities decreased. He is still involved with his magic, though, which he's been doing over 30 years now. In addition to funeral service and magic organizations, Mr. Lee is still active in numerous organizations, including the White Plains Historical Society and White Plains Juneteenth Heritage Committee, just to name a few.
T.J. Lee works full time as Facility Manager. He is a welcome addition to our staff who is most helpful, and truly an asset.
Our profession, contrary to popular belief, is constantly changing. New laws and requirements continue to make ownership very difficult and expensive. But as we believe in our profession, and always being professionals, we do what we have to do to continue to serve. We have always believed in education, and were happy to see continuing education become mandatory to maintaining and renewing one's license. Know that we at Lee's Funeral Home, LLC are always educating ourselves, and will strive to continually educate our community.
Finally, as we promise to continually educate and better ourselves and those around us, we hope our community will try to grow with us, and the city and world we live in. Again, we thank you all for allowing us to serve you thus far, and we will continue, God willing, to serve diligently, dedicated, and with dignity, providing professional, progressive, proficient, and personal care, as long as we can and it is His will!