Being in the funeral home business, Jeff Forsythe often has to help his clients through some of the worst days of their lives.

Jeff Forsythe. Contributed photo.

It’s a challenge he tries not to think too much about.

“It’s something you can’t fake,” said Forsythe, 51. “You’re either compassionate or you’re not. To be able to help folks through their hardest times is one of the most rewarding jobs you can do.”

For his efforts, Forsythe, of Falmouth, is the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce 2018 Business Person of the Year.

The award recognizes an area business owner or officer who displays leadership, maintains integrity and professionalism and has a vision for the mid-Maine region. It will be presented April 25 at a ceremony at Enchanted Gables at Medicine Bend Stables in Oakland.

“Jeff has taken a traditional business and successfully grown it locally in the face of growing national dominance within his industry,” said Kim Lindlof, president and CEO of the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce, in an email.

“He is dedicated to his colleagues and the community.  The adversity that Jeff has overcome is a testament to his character and determination. This award could not be presented to a better man.”

Forsythe, who has worked in funeral homes for the last 31 years and currently owns five across central Maine, didn’t always see it as part of his future.

Growing up in Fairfield, he left home at age 15 after his parents divorced and moved to Portland, where he supported himself working on the Portland fish docks and renting a room at the YMCA for $7 per week.

In Portland, Forsythe met his future wife, Rhonda, and they eventually moved back to central Maine in 1987. He worked at Zimba Corp. and PepsiCo. while attending Thomas College and the University of Maine at Augusta.

Around that time Forsythe also met his mentors Ed and Marilyn Gaunce, who at the time were co-owners of Lawry Brothers Funeral Home in Fairfield.

He started working for them part time, and the Gaunces helped Forsythe with his writing and communication skills, he said.

He decided in 1990 to go to mortuary school and enrolled in the New England Institute of Mortuary Science at Mount Ida College in Newton, Massachusetts, where he graduated in 1992.

“I wanted to do something where I could help the community,” Forsythe said. “At the time, it didn’t seem like a job. I just enjoyed helping people, and it was something that was not only a career for myself, but it was returning a favor to people who helped me through my childhood.”

Forsythe became manager of Lawry Brothers in 1995 and took over ownership in 1999.

Since then, he has acquired Wheeler’s Funeral Home, in Oakland; Knowlton & Hewins Funeral Home, in Augusta; Roberts Funeral Home, in Winthrop; and Staples Funeral Home and Cremation Care, in Gardiner.

Together they’re known as Family First Funeral Homes and Cremation Care.

Forsythe said he was surprised to be named Business Person of the Year and credited much of his success to his 24 employees across central Maine.

“It’s just what I do every day,” he said. “It’s being able to employ my staff and make sure they have their 401(k), health insurance, and they are taken care of. I guess by doing that, they’re happy and able to take care of the clients that come through the door. By doing that you grow.”

 


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