For a man who worked in the most somber of industries, Meade Vernon Rowe Sr. had a special knack for making people laugh.
Rowe often projected his serious side as a businessman and devoted family man, but he also was a jokester, according to those who knew the 92-year-old funeral home founder. Rowe died on Feb. 8 after a brief illness.
Meade Vernon Rowe Sr., 92, was a fixture in the Morristown community for many years. (Photo courtesy of the Rowe family)
"Vernon was just this really nice guy who was kind to everybody, made you laugh, lifted your spirits, always had a story to tell," said Roberta Moseley, a Dover resident whose mother was cousins with Rowe's late wife, Marion Cecelia Rowe, and went to high school together in Morristown in the early 1940s.
"My heart grieves for the loss of this wonderful man," Moseley wrote on a tribute page for Rowe on Legacy.com. "He was 'Mr. Morristown' to me and seemed to know everyone and greet everyone with a smile, a story or joke. He always asked me, 'Are you complaining or bragging," whenever I tried to explain a problem I was having. It made me smile."
In a phone interview on Wednesday, Moseley said Rowe was a fixture on the Morristown Green, striking up conversations with almost anyone he met -- friendly chats that sometimes would stretch as long as a half-hour.
"He wasn't a gossiper or anything like that. But he would tell these amazing stories about people he knew, people he grew up with," Moseley said.
Moseley said Rowe and his wife were very active in the Morristown community, helping out at soup kitchens and on church committees, and lending a hand to local families in need of assistance.
"He would give you the shirt off his back if necessary," Moseley said.
After spending the early part of his childhood in Madison, Virginia, Rowe moved to Morristown, where he attended Morristown High School.
After graduating in 1943, he joined the U.S. Army and served from 1943 to 1946. He married his childhood sweetheart, Marion, in August 1949 and together they raised five children. Marion was a registered nurse and Vernon Rowe worked at his father's coal removal business while driving a car for a local funeral parlor in Morristown, the now-defunct L.L. Taylor Funeral Home.
That's where Rowe developed an interest in the funeral business and decided to go to school to become a licensed funeral director, his son said. Rowe dreamed of one day owning his own funeral business, and his wife helped him establish the Rowe Funeral Home in Morristown.
The business later merged with another funeral home in town and is now called the Rowe-Lanterman Home for Funerals and operated by Rowe's son, M. Vernon Rowe Jr.
In many remembrance notes posted on two online tribute pages for Rowe, two common themes stand out: The former funeral director's generosity and his sense of humor.
"I remember his kindness and humor... those dry one-liners! :-)
Another wrote: "Vernon, so sorry to hear about your Dad. I loved him very much. He always made me laugh. I adored him so much. Love to you all!"
And one tribute message said the Morristown community lost a great man. "Another giant has fallen," it read.
Rowe's son, who took over his father's business in 1990, called his dad "a fun-loving gregarious guy" who managed to mix humor with a serious occupation.
"He loved to joke with people, tease people, bust their chops, if you will. But he was a real lovable, kind guy," the younger Rowe said on Wednesday. "He enjoyed life, he enjoyed his work, he enjoyed people."
In addition to his son and daughter-in-law Elizabeth, Rowe is survived by four other children, Karen, John (Frances), Paula, and Tonia (Montae); 11 grandchildren, 21 great-grandchildren and many other relatives. He was predeceased by his brother Otis Gibbs and his sister Vivian Thompson.
Funeral services will be held on Friday, Feb. 17, at 11 a.m. at Calvary Baptist Church, 10 Martin Luther Ave. in Morristown. Interment will follow in Evergreen Cemetery in Morristown. Visitation will be held Thursday, Feb. 16, from 6 to 9 p.m. and Friday, Feb. 17, from 10 to 11 a.m. at Calvary Baptist Church.
Condolences may also be expressed online at www.rowelanterman.com.
Len Melisurgo may be reached at LMelisurgo@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @LensReality or like him on Facebook. Find NJ.com on Facebook.