Peter Griffith is the 63-year-old funeral director and owner of Lyndhurst Funeral Home and Coral Ridge Memorial Gardens.
Despite his successes, life was not always a bed of roses for him, as he had to overcome losing both his parents as a young boy – first his mother when he was 10 years old, then his father three years later.
The second loss saw a major change in the course of his education, as his family could not afford to keep up his attendance at private school.
“I went from being chauffer driven to a private school, to going to a primary public school. I got to a stage where support for the family was really difficult, so that toughened me up a bit. I then went to…the Seventh-day Adventist School. I was in and out of school due to lack of funds to pay school fees, so I decided I was going to work and then I educated myself after school,” Griffith related to Barbados TODAY.
“I have no regrets. I think I might not be the person that I am if I had continued with any of the privileges I would have had in my early years,” he said.
Adding that the majority of his siblings are professionals, Griffith said he was thankful for his parents’ instruction before they died.
“My mother was a disciplinarian, and before she died she dished out quite a bit to me. I can remember it very clearly and I am thankful for the values that my mother and father instilled in me. I try to pass that on to my children,” he said.
Although Griffith was 15 years, 9 months when he left school, by the age of 16 he had obtained his first vehicle—a truck—and began a small business.
“After I reached the age of 19, I sold that business and I was working with the NCC and I did marketing with them. Eventually, I became the Caribbean Brand Manager for a number of products and I was based in Jamaica for a short time.”
So, how did Griffith end up in the funeral business?
In 1975, he decided that he needed to find a career that did not require traveling, as he had a wife and young son. He gave up his job and went to England to study civil engineering.
“While there, I met a chap at a funeral home and I had a long conversation and realized that the service in England was so different that I saw that I could bring something to the funeral home business in Barbados. That led me into the college in England in the funeral business, rather than civil engineering. I have no regrets when I look back [as] I think I made the right choice,” Griffith said, adding that he learned the human side of being a funeral director and embalmer from the late Colin Parkinson, for whom the chapel at Lyndhurst Funeral Home is named.
“After completing my studies, I did my internship in England and then returned to Barbados in 1979, and I joined Lyndhurst on February 16, 1979 as an embalmer and manager. I must say that I learned all the skills of embalming and restorative art, long-term preservation, and disaster management at college. I brought [the skills obtained] back to Barbados and was lucky enough to be working with Colin Parkinson. He had a vast amount of knowledge at the time, as he was the major shareholder at Lyndhurst Funeral Home, known then as Parkinson Limited.
“I think that I learned the human aspect from him and he was a very good role model to work with. I had the opportunity to work with him for four years and then I branched out on my own. I came back in 1987 and became a full owner in 1990,” Griffith said. He was 29 years old at the time.
Reflecting on his business’ successes, he said that two of the highlights of his career were conducting the funerals of St Lucia’s Nobel laureate for economics, Sir Arthur Lewis, in 1991 and Guyana’s first Prime Minister, Forbes Burnham, in 1985.
“I think Burnham would have been the largest funeral I have done in my lifetime, in terms of attendance. The stadium was full of people and over a three-day period they were queues as long as 10 miles to see the body of Forbes Burnham,” he said, adding that he had also buried two Dominican Prime Ministers—Dame Mary Eugenia Charles, the country’s first and only female Prime Minister, and Rosie Douglas.
Another prominent person he helped lay to rest was American stage and film actress, and a leading lady in Hollywood for over two decades, Claudette Colbert, who lived in Barbados.
“We were honoured to have had her funeral and look after the arrangements here and then send her remains back to New York for another service. Her cremated remains are housed at the mausoleum at St Peter’s cemetery which we look after,” he added.
“I have had close friends that we have looked after as well, which we were very honoured [to have]—people like Sir Fred Gollop.”
Reflecting on Barbados’ 52nd Anniversary of Independence, this son of the soil said Barbados means the world to him.
“I travel a bit now and…I [always] feel elated to be back home. Barbados is a very unique place, the people are warm and I hope that continues. We do have a little crime that we have to control. The trials that we are going through we will get through. We have done it before and I think the Government is on the right track,” he said.
Peter Griffith’s story serves as an inspiration for all Barbadians that no matter their circumstances, they can aspire to become great men and women of our nation and, for that reason, he truly exemplifies the spirit of Barbados. (LG)