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Mills – Making a living from the dead

Mills – Making a living from the dead


Q: How did it all start?

A: I lived with my father George Mills, who also built coffins and I sandpapered them at age 10. So I grew up with a pretty good knowledge of building coffins.

In those days if a person died, you had to keep the body on ice to preserve it. It was not like now where you could embalm. They would put three blocks of ice around the body, but that used to wet up people’s homes. {{more}}

Then I lived with my grandmother and after a while I lived in Trinidad where I worked in a factory, but I was encouraged to come back home to St.Vincent and I again started building coffins. I had no hearst but I built myself up from there. It’s from there I went into embalming and different things where I was able to manage things in a professional way.

Q: Did you envision yourself doing this while growing up?

A: Well, I grew up with my father; as a little boy I thought that was the best thing to do, because I knew about it. You have to love it, to do it. You have to dedicate yourself because you have to please people and handle them in a professional manner. If you go to the U.S. you would see pretty girls doing it. Many of them have gone to school just for that. There are a lot of young people who are funeral directors in the U.S.

Q: When did you start?

A: I started building coffins on my own in 1962. But I had to think because we didn’t have this set of money. I was on my own and you had build some coffins and you had to work right through the night, because you didn’t have power or electrical tools like we have today. So it was a task.

Q: How do you spend your weekends?

A: Sometimes I go to Bequia I go on the beach…anything like that. But I always keep active. Sometimes if there is a funeral for me to do, I’ll do it.

Q: Where would you be on a Saturday night?

A: When I was younger I used to have a drink and things like that. The guys that worked with me and I would have a hell of a time, but when you get older you get more into business. So I’d be home mainly a Saturday night. I do not go out unless there is a particular thing I want to go to. You know like a show or something.

Q: What kind of show?

A: You know like what they have in the park. Like Calypso shows…my son Vern Mills of “Dynamic Guys Sound System” does a lot of the sound system for these shows. I used to do music too and they picked it up from me. I had “Connection One,” one of the best discos in Middle Street. I did a lot of different shows. I started the “Clash of the Bands” with Glen Jackson. So I did a lot of promotions; entertainment is also what I used to do. It was a thing that I loved long ago, but now I leave that for you younger people.

Q: What is your favourite meal?

A: Me? I like boil fish, conch, corn with peas, like how the Bequia people do it. I like fish, boil fish. Other from that I like Chinese food, but not like how they do it down here. I like whelks, conch and seafood.

Q: What challenges you most in life?

A: To get the business running better than how I am doing it. But you know with workers, they lapse at times and put pressure back on you. But other from that everything is cool.

Q: What is the most enjoyable aspect of your job?

A: Seeing things go in the proper way. We have to correct a lot of mistakes that come in from the United States and England. I guess because of the heat down here and some of them are accustomed to the cold, sometimes they don’t do the bodies properly and we got to correct it.

Q: Where do you get your inspiration to go on?

A: When people tell you that you’ve done a fine job, congratulating you. You know the body may have been mashed up in accidents and you have to bring them back properly. You don’t do it for the money and you feel good. We had bodies that were in a plane crash and although they were mutilated you do your best. There was one where the plane crashed into the La Soufriere Mountain, which left persons with a piece of leg, a piece of hand or half of head. Terrible things and you have to go and patch back these body parts.

Q: Who has had the most positive influence on your life?

A: I don’t know maybe my children, they encourage me … (just then phone rings and he answers in a very professional tone, but it’s his son Vern and his voice becomes tender.)

Q: If you could change one thing in the country or the world, what would it be?

A: Well I feel people here need more experience and they need some guidance from people who know more. The country has not been improving and I think it’s because of the way people work. It’s a “one for today, one tomorrow” kind of attitude. To me they don’t work because they love to work. They love to know it’s Friday and they get paid.

Time is another thing that we don’t look at. Business places should have a clock where they come in and check in, but people don’t come to work early and they are always late. When you talk to them you know the problems they are having. But all in all, for our country to get on we have to get some people to lead the younger ones. If you estimate a house for $100,000, you end up paying three or $400,000 because of the work people give you. They either figure they are not getting enough money, or they are down right lazy. So there is a need for more guidance especially in building roads. We need people who know about road construction. But young people in our country I guess they are like that, all over the world. But we have some dedicated people.

Q: Where do you see yourself in the next 5-10 years?

A: Well I see myself trying to go forward, at least into next year and for one of my businesses growing in a bigger way. We would be setting up a factory to build caskets and so on. Getting our crematorium and everything like that, because you know space at the cemetery is very limited. The government needs to do something about that. Maybe taking over the back of the Anglican Church graveyard as an extension.

Q: Anything else you wanted to say?

A: No not really, but just that people should try and buck up and get their acts together and things would go forward.