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Avis Boyd Gaines: Mortician of the Year

Avis Boyd-Gaines, brothers Bon and Walter Boyd

Avis Boyd-Gaines, brothers Bon and Walter Boyd

Avis Boyd Gaines: Mortician of the Year

By Marie Carrie Email:

Avis Boyd Gaines is the story of success: successful business, successful marriage; successful daughter; and let’s not forget the ultimate symbol of success, “a Bentley” (courtesy of the generous retirement she receives as aresult of her years of service with the U.S. Army).

But behind every story of success is a tale of struggle. And it’s the struggle that makes the story truly unforgettable.

Avis Boyd Gaines is the ninth of 11 children and the “baby girl”. She is a third generation mortician and the owner of the James C. Boyd, Sr. Funeral Home on Sistrunk Boulevard.

Avis’s father started the funeral home in 1973 at its first location on Broward Blvd., where the Fort Lauderdale Police Department (FLPD) stands today. When the FLPD acquired the land, Boyd, Sr. relocated to Sistrunk.

Mr. Boyd was originally from Palatka, Florida, where the family has been in the mortuary business for 73 years. He came to South Florida to attend the mortuary science program at Miami-Dade College and decided to move his family here.

When Avis graduated six months early from high school, she enrolled right away in the same mortuary science program her dad attended at Miami-Dade; however, Avis had a much different experience.

“Here I was 17 and I’m at Miami-Dade in mortuary science with all these old men thinking what the heck I got myself into.” Avis goes on to re-call, “My first class was embalming and I’m in there with all those dead bodies and old men thinking I picked the wrong profession.”

Because her dad was picking up the tab, supplying her with a credit card and giving her everything she wanted, Avis stuck it out for two years and graduated. Instead of following in her father’s footsteps however, she decided to pursue a different path.

“Two days before I got ready to depart, I told my dad I was going into the military,” Gaines remembers. James C. Boyd, Sr. was anything but happy for his daughter and tried unsuccessfully to dissuade her.

“It’s gonna be a war. You don’t like authority. You’re not gonna be able to survive,” he counseled.

He was wrong on all but one of his arguments. Avis not only served through one war but several. She was stationed in Kuwait, Afghanistan and Kosovo. She not only served, she received commendations, such as the Legion of Merit award.

Rather than disliking authority, Avis thrived under it. In fact from day one, she was determined to become the person giving orders, not just taking them. “In basic training, I raised my hand and said ‘Sergeant, how do I become a sergeant because I ‘m a private and you telling me what to do and I want to be over there where you are’.”

And as far as not surviving in the military, Gaines not only survived, she thrived. At the pinnacle of her career she was the Inspector General for the Pentagon. A position she en-joyed for four years until she received “the call”.

It was October 2007, Avis’s dad had passed away 11 years ago and her mother had been running the family business but her health was failing. She needed Avis. She called and asked her daughter to come home.


“Your parents know who can handle what and who would be fair in handling it,” says Boyd-Gaines.

While the decision wasn’t easy, it was necessary so Avis submitted her retirement papers and within a week she was back home in Fort Lauderdale taking over the day-to-day running of the funeral home her father built from the ground up.

Three months after returning home, Avis’s mom died. She left everything to Avis.

Despite her recent honor of being named Mortician of the Year for District One (which covers Miami, Broward, Palm Beach and parts of Vero Beach), the transition from Army officer to Business CEO was anything but seamless.

It had been over 30 years since Gaines had taken any course-work in mortuary science. In fact she had been as far away from the business as physically and mentally possible. But her leader-ship skills honed through 26 years of military service served her well in equipping her with everything she needed to carry on her father’s legacy. Well almost everything. The military did not have training on how to work with and lead family.

There was definitely a period of adjustment as Gaines and her siblings learned how to work together to successfully run the family business.

“Making family accountable was the hardest part. And me trying to transition from this military authority to now dealing with my siblings and civilians who are not use to structure,” re-flects Avis.

Having navigated the challenges that confronted them, the Boyd family is stronger than ever. Brothers Walter Boyd and Bon Boyd work directly with Gaines as vice-president and general manager respectively.

Sister Erma Boyd Dorsey now lives in Fort Myers, FL where she and her husband carry on the family business as the Directors of the James C. Boyd, Sr. Funeral Home located there. In fact Gaines’ daughter and now granddaughter are both involved in the family business. Her daughter is her assistant and her granddaughter, who is in sixth grade leads the children services.

Avis Boyd Gaines is the first to say, she did not plan this part of her story and it is the direct work of God with whom she credits all things in her life.

“This was a journey for me and I know it was God’s will that I am here because my plan was to retire and stay in D.C. But God already knows what you are gonna be.”

As the 2014 Mortician of the Year for District 1, Boyd-Gaines will go on to compete at the state and national level. Regardless of the results, her sister Erma states best what each of us should feel about Avis, “I am so proud of what she has accomplished in her life starting from the military and coming back here and pumping life back into the funeral home.”

Accolades aside, the most important thing to Boyd-Gaines is maintaining and continuing the stellar reputation her father created in the community.

The one thing she wants everyone to know about James C. Boyd, Sr. Funeral Home is that, “We are professionals here and we do this from the heart. I don’t do this for the money. I am retired and I get pretty good benefits from the army. This is a ministry for me. I truly sympathize with others loss, because I have lost both of my parents. So when I say I do this from the heart…I mean it.”

Mr. James C. Boyd, Sr. would indeed be very proud of the work his “baby girl” has done to carry on his legacy.



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