James A. Dyal had calling to be in funeral business since age of 14

A Dyal family photo

When James A. Dyal was 14, he had something of a revelation, his wife says. It was during a visitation he attended at a Ravenel home.

There, standing in front of a casket, viewing the deceased, he said to himself: This is what I want to do.

After high school and the Army, Dyal dedicated himself to the business, first working at Connelley Funeral Home and later at McAlister Funeral Home, says Mary Alice Marvin Dyal, his wife.

Throughout more than half a century in the business, he would tell and retell people about the moment he decided the funeral business was for him.

“I think he had a calling; you might call it a calling,” she says.

Dyal, who was born Nov. 29, 1935 in Jasper County, grew up on County Line Road in Ravenel, died July 6.

“He got married to me in 1957,” Mary Alice Dyal says. A few months later, they left for him to study at the Kentucky School of Embalming. While there, she worked for the Great American Insurance Company and helped put him through school.

James A. Dyal Funeral Home opened in 1963.

“When we went in business, he said if you could work for me for about five years, then I could hire a secretary. Fifty years later, and I’m still here.

“I just miss his passion for life and doing what he loved,” says Mrs. Dyal.

Dyal loved people and enjoyed arranging and organizing things, making him a natural for the funeral business, she says. The detail-oriented Dyal was hands-on, never above moving a flower spray two inches to the left or right.

But he also enjoyed putting money in a birthday card and sending it to the people who worked in the local businesses he patronized.

“He went above and beyond what he had to do,” his wife says. “He would have cancer treatments in Charleston once a week and we had dialysis three days a week.” Yet, he always wanted to be brought to one of their four funeral-related businesses and do what he could.

He would get his children to take him out to Dorchester Memorial Gardens, a James A. Dyal company, at 10, 11 or 12 o’clock at night, she says. He would have them ride him over the 45 acres there to make sure everything was in order.

His son, James A. Dyal Jr., says he also enjoyed visiting there early in the morning and quietly observing the birds and other wildlife. That was partly influenced by his having grown up in the country, something he was proud of and joked about.

“He used to tell people Caw Caw was the capital of Ravenel,” his son says. “He loved all people. He did a lot for a lot of different people.”

Reach Wevonneda Minis at 937-5705.