Harlem funeral director celebrates 50 years as a community fixture

ASTORIA, Queens — Anyone who knows Isaiah Owens knows he does not do anything half way.

His cane, top hat, and gold gloves were par for the course as the legendary Harlem mortician arrived at a banquet hall in Astoria, Queens Friday evening to celebrate his birthday and his 50th year in business as a funeral director.

“God blessed me through all of the times," Owens said. "Tough times and the good times, and I’ve been able to form some wonderful relationships with thousands of families. In my preparations, I try to convey to them that death is not such a terrible thing, but it could be a beautiful thing.”

Owens estimates he's performed 25,000 burials over the course of his career, in which he wears many hats: consoler, problem solver and a shoulder to lean on for families wading through their most trying moments.

The turnout at his gala was indeed a testament to Mr. Owens' half century of service to his clients who have become his family.

“It means so much. Because he did so much for me and my family,” said attendee Helen Gaillard.

The Rev. Dr. Calvin Butts of ABYSSIAN Baptist Church arrived to deliver the evening's keynote address.

“We celebrate the transition from this life to the life beyond," said Rev. Butts.

"Isaiah Owens is our conductor. He’s our usher. He’s our friend. He represents the beauty, he represents grace. He represents Harlem well."

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