Earlier this year, the funeral industry lost a strong advocate, a dedicated educator, a tireless ambassador and a true pioneer. I also lost a close friend when Annette Wolfe passed away at the age of 82.
My professional and personal lives, along with those of many others, would have been very different without Annette. For 50+ years, she turned her passion for the funeral services business into a personal commitment that benefitted many of her colleagues. Her fundraising efforts were unmatched. She developed opportunities for all by improving communications, fostering education and lobbying legislators. She also raised the profile of the Metropolitan Funeral Directors Association.
Annette’s achievements were so plentiful that we just can’t name them all. However, as a tribute to this wonderful lady, it is appropriate to shine the spotlight on a few of her most significant accomplishments.
As MetFDA chairperson during the late 1970s, Annette developed initiatives that became the core of the organization and standards within the industry. She had a vision for fundraising. She supported educational seminars and found new opportunities to assist members with daily business and legal issues. Annette not only supported the active role of women in the industry, she led the way by example.
At the 2012 Buddy Wolfe Classic (Annette’s original golf/tennis fundraiser idea eventually was named for her business colleague and husband), everyone in the industry gathered in appreciation of her professional and personal contributions. After years of toasting others, Annette finally was on the receiving line to greet well-wishers.
Many MetFDA members and personal friends who benefitted from Annette’s vision, hard work, commitment and friendship – plus her outspoken style – joined the evening celebration of her life and her success. Among them were Cemetery Guild president Emily Newman; Bea Lewunduski, president, New York State Funeral Directors Association (NYSFDA); Bonnie McCullough, NYSFDA executive director; Dick Hazard, NYSFDA past president; Bill Butler, president, Nassau/Suffolk Funeral Directors Association (NSFDA); Jo Pettit, NSFDA executive director; Doug Brueggeman, NSFDA past president; John D’Arienzo and Peter DeLuca, event co-chairs; and Bob Hogan, president, Metropolitan Funeral Directors Association.
Championing Woman Colleagues
Annette’s successes with MetFDA and other New York trade associations were nothing short of remarkable, and possibly her greatest contribution was her ability to promote the role of women within the industry.
The funeral business long has been a male-dominant field. Few women have been involved in the businesses of their fathers or husbands. Fewer have had the opportunity to blaze a trail to increase the presence of women in the profession. So, when something needed to be accomplished, the only woman who could have accepted the role was Annette. She had the talent, the experience, the respect and the trust of colleagues to champion women as employees, partners and owners.
Annette was very persuasive when she felt that she was correct. She was a mix of beauty, brains and politics, and she even had a little bit of truck driver inside her. She never backed away from her opinions and she challenged anyone in power despite any risk of jeopardizing long-term relationships.
One of Annette’s closest friends, Dan McManus of Clark Associates Funeral Home in Westchester County, perfectly characterized this beloved lady: “Annette L. Wolfe was a presence,” he said, “whether you enjoyed her or not. She was active, colorfully VOCAL and often outrageous in her zeal and support of funeral service.”
Annette entered my life 30 years ago with the opportunity to provide an insurance proposal to an industry friend. The funeral director accepted my proposal to mark my entree into the industry and the start of my relationship with Annette.
Annette aggressively promoted my firm, The Whitmore Group, Ltd., as the insurance broker that provided competitively-priced property and casualty programs for the funeral industry. She opened many doors and provided me with the opportunity to form long-lasting bonds with many New York area funeral directors. Without Annette’s support, my company never would have become the largest broker of funeral homes in the country. I forever will be grateful for her unwavering loyalty and friendship.
As a lasting tribute, the MetFDA board recently renamed its annual fundraiser the Buddy and Annette Wolfe Classic. Annette and Buddy are together again, and everyone now will forever remember their accomplishments, their friendship and the many ways that they supported each of us and the funeral industry.