O n November 10, 2011, Guare and sons Funeral Home purchased Barber and Lanier Funeral Home. The follow is an article written about the merger.
Mergers and acquisitions, openings and closings – the business world moves to the cyclical rhythms of these milestones that trace an arc in the life of any company. Their details, when announced, can often be reduced and rendered as dry facts on a page, but after the recent purchase of the Barber & Lanier business by Guare & Sons Funeral Home, its owners – Jim Johnston and Paul S. Guare, respectively – recently sat down together to reflect on the history of the two companies, the relationship they have shared, and their role in the community.
“Our families have always enjoyed a close relationship,” said Guare, “and that will continue going forward. Jim will be available to assist in the transition. We’re going to continue the Barber & Lanier name and phone number, and Guare & Sons is committed to providing a seamless service for all pre-arrangements that were made with Barber & Lanier. We’ve had that kind of collaboration right from the beginning, and we represent two of the oldest operating businesses in Montpelier.”
George Barber founded the firm of “Barbier & Lanier Undertakers” in Montpelier, in 1916. It was first located on East State Street where the city’s parking garage now stands, and moved to its current location on Main Street in 1922. Pearl Lanier joined as a partner just after the flood of 1927, and the two men worked together until the 1940s when Barber retired and sold his interest in the business to Robert Hale.
In 1964, Jim Johnston, a native of Rutland, came to Montpelier. After being released from active duty in the Marine Corps, he had enrolled in the New England Mortuary School and worked briefly in the Boston area for JS Waterman and Sons, the largest mortuary firm in New England.
“I came to Barber & Lanier on a contract for a year to see if I liked working in a small business,” Johnston said. “I ended up buying out Bob Hale six months after I arrived. Bob stayed on until he died in the 1970s and we had a great relationship. I sort of became the son he never had, and I stayed for 47 years.”
A unique feature of the funeral business was that until the late 1960s these companies also routinely functioned as the town’s only ambulance service, making calls twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
“When Dick Guare was in business, we used to go out on ambulance calls together quite a bit,” Johnston said. “Back then we didn’t have pagers so you always had to tell whoever was answering the phones where you were going so they could track you down.”
In the case of Dick Guare, that task frequently fell to his wife, Helen, and his son Paul recalls his father’s diligence in keeping her informed.
“I can remember him telling my mother, ‘I’m going to Cano’s Market, then I’m going to the fire house and then the Grand Union. It had to be that specific. ”
The history of the Guare & Sons Funeral Home begins with the wedding of Florence Emmons to Thomas J Guare in 1918. Following the post-ceremony luncheon at the bride’s home, the newlyweds boarded a train for Boston, where they enrolled in the New England Institute of Sanitary Science, Anatomy and Embalming.
In 1921, they purchased the Frank E. Hall funeral business, also on East State Street, and opened a public office in the Tomasi Block on Main Street before eventually locating the business on the first floor of their home on Barre Street. J. Richard Guare inherited the funeral home from his father in 1954 and worked until his death in 1997. His son, Paul joined ownership in 1986.
“I was brought up in the business,” Guare said. “Dad would bring me – actually all of my brothers – to help on ambulance calls. I was licensed in 1976, but I’d been involved in various ways for a long time before that.”
Although the ownership of Barber & Lanier now transfers to Guare & Sons, Johnston plans to stay involved through his work as a lobbyist for the Funeral Directors Association, but he’ll be taking a little time off, first.
“We’re going to spend a few weeks in Florida, and my wife Linda is looking forward to her first vacation away since 1988,” Johnston said. “It will be good to finally be able to sleep without a pager next to my ear, but I’ve enjoyed the work. I’ve met an awful lot of nice families and I have no regrets.”
“Jim has been a great contributor to the profession and this community, and I wish him all the best,” Guare said.
“I first came here in 1995, and I was surprised at how well these two businesses worked together,” added Guare & Sons' funeral director Jon Boucher. “I’d been in other towns where it wasn’t like that at all. This was special.”
And if you are looking for that original antique “Undertakers” sign that once hung on the eave of the Barber & Lanier building? You can find it at McGillicuddy’s Pub.
“My son-in-law Dave took it down the other day, and I think he’s already got it hanging up in there,” said Johnston, with a laugh.