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In a time of need

Greg and Suzanne Walley, earlier this summer,  bought out former partners Jim and Connie Clem to become sole owners of Colonial Funeral Home. Times-Mirror Staff Photo/Ben Hancock
When a loved one dies, it's often best to have people around you know.

Greg Walley, the director of Colonial Funeral Homes has been working in Leesburg for more than a decade. You also want people who are passionate and compassionate.

He has been in the business for almost 30 years, and has known he wanted to be a funeral director since high school.

Earlier this summer Greg Walley and his, wife, Suzanne, bought out former partners Jim and Connie Clem.

In a county booming with cookie cutter homes and strip malls, the Walleys want to run a family business in one of the few industries left where it seems like it should be the normal business model.

Maybe it’s the 1940s Packard hearse that sits in front of Colonial Funeral Home on East Market Street in downtown Leesburg or the fact that the funeral home looks like a home. Maybe it’s the name – Colonial – but the place is set up to feel like maybe your grandfather's place, or maybe a great uncle.

"It's really not a corporation," said Suzanne Walley. A trait the couple believe is important.

The business of death is being commodified now, but in a $17 billion industry the Walleys want their funeral home to feel more mom and pop and less like a Costco.

So Greg Walley's brother Darrell, a licensed funeral home director, works at the funeral home; his middle son, Chad, is an intern; his oldest son, Ryan, is studying mortuary sciences where his father did almost 30 years ago; and his wife works together with him every day.

The lone question mark is the youngest son, Taylor.

"My youngest is, what's he? Kinda undecided," Greg Walley said.

It was after attending a career day presentation as a student at Edison High School in Alexandria that Greg Walley decided to pursue being a funeral director. He was given the chance to sit in on speeches and hear about professions he might want to pursue after high school.

One such speech was given by the local funeral home director at DeMaine Funeral Home.

"I went ahead and attended that class, mainly out of curiosity," he said. "And something just struck with me then."

A few months later, he was married to high school sweetheart Suzanne and the couple were off to Atlanta, where he enrolled at Gupton-Jones College of Mortuary Sciences.

For a few years Suzanne Walley supported her husband while he was a student at Gupton-Jones. She worked for the Department of Defense at McPherson Army Base in East Point, Ga. just outside Atlanta.

The couple says that it was always a hope for them that they would go into business together, something that just came to fruition on a full-time basis just two years ago, once their kids became older and Suzanne Walley began working full time.

The Colonial Funeral Home opened its doors originally in 1877 in what is today the Loudoun Museum at the corner of Wirt and Loudoun streets.

In the past 136 years, the funeral home has changed hands only about a half dozen times. The most recent being only a month-and-a-half ago.

As for the future, the Walleys hope the business can stay in the family and continue the same way it has for the last 136 years.


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