2021 NFDA International Convention and Expo

Elvira & Steve Parthemore

By Steve Parthemore, Funeral Director


Maybe I shouldn’t admit this, but the last time I attended a National Funeral Directors Convention was in 1989 when I was a student in Mortuary School in Baltimore. My parents attended, since it was in our backyard, and I had the opportunity to join them for different sessions. 

Over the years, I have attended many state conventions and several conferences through our membership in the Order of the Golden Rule (OGR). OGR gave me the opportunity to go to locations I have never visited, including Aspen, Boston and Toronto. (I’ll never forget the Canadian border control interviewing my boys to make sure that we were not abducting them.) Over the last decade, as I got busier with our business and kids, my attendance at events lessened. Fortunately, I was able to rely on trade journals and webinars to help keep me up-to-date professionally. 

My brother, Bruce, has been very active with our state association, the Pennsylvania Funeral Directors Association (PFDA). He let us know that this year’s National Convention was in Nashville. He suggested that I attend, since my son Garrison would be an incoming freshman at Vanderbilt in Nashville. My cousin David and his wife Shara are stationed at nearby Fort Campbell, so I would be able to mix a little family time with business. Bruce said that he would attend next year’s convention since he would be the incoming president of PFDA. 

The convention was hosted at Music City Center, a 2.1 million square foot, state of the art facility in the heart of downtown Nashville. Sunday afternoon we walked over to the center from our hotel to print out our badges and become familiar with the layout of the building. That evening, we attended the opening party. I was surprised to discover that they had closed the street next to Music City Center and set up a huge stage at one end. Once inside, actually on the street, there were stations set up everywhere with a variety of amazing foods. We sat with and enjoyed getting to know a couple that owned a funeral home in Buffalo, NY. My son, Garrison, was able to join us in time to see the band, Runaway June, come on the stage. They were excellent, playing their own music along with covering artists such as Tom Petty. 

The next day officially started the convention. There were keynote addresses for all three days of the convention. Each speaker was internationally recognized and gave dynamic presentations. The first day’s speaker was Duncan Wardle, former Head of Innovation and Creativity at Disney for over 25 years.  Statements he made which resonated with me included: the fact that our industry is an experience industry; we need to give our staff time to think; diversity is innovation; and the opposite of bravery is not cowardice, but conformity. He mentioned one of his biggest regrets was not being able to attend his father’s funeral service due to a volcano erupting and shutting down flights. He envisioned advancements in technology that will allow loved ones, unable to physically attend services, be able to attend virtually using VR headsets.

The speaker on the third day, Ben Nemtin was very inspirational and a positive note to end the convention.  He was excellent at sharing the highs and lows which inevitably, we all experience in our lives. He is the creator, executive producer and cast member of MTV series The Buried Life. Nemtin is also co-author of the book What Do You Want To Do Before You Die? Things that he mentioned which touched me were the importance of gratitude, exercise, mindfulness, digital detox, and connecting with others. He explained how helping others gives meaning and purpose. 

During the rest of the day, we had our choice of attending break out sessions dealing with topics such as social media, law enforcement line of duty deaths, legal issues, connecting with different communities, customer service, cosmetics, taking care of yourself and family, the effect of the pandemic on funeral service, etc. 

Sessions I enjoyed included the Reimagined Funeral. The speaker mentioned how during the height of the pandemic, funeral homes had to turn families away. He mentioned that, as a whole, funeral homes were pretty good at adapting to the pandemic with streaming services, making arrangements through Zoom, etc. He said that we will not go back to the pre-pandemic way of doing things. We will need to concentrate on providing greater convenience for our families, embracing technology, and even reimagining our facilities to align with market changes. 

There were two projects which I learned more about at the convention that I would like to incorporate.  The First is “Journey to Serve,” a unique marketing campaign launched in 2021 by the Funeral Service Foundation and the ICCFA Educational Foundation. This collaborative effort between organizations aims to engage, recruit and hire more military veterans to careers in the funeral service profession. We are blessed to have several veterans on our staff and their attitude and organizational skills are priceless.

The second is “Have the Talk of a Lifetime,” which offers families practical advice and tools to help them have conversations about the things that matter most and how they hope to be remembered when they die and for generations to come. This wonderful program has been offered through The Funeral and Memorial Information Council for some time and I’ve put it on the back burner. It’s time to make this worthwhile program more accessible to our families:  https://www.talkofalifetime.org/

The expo hall was nothing short of amazing. It literally took us the three days of the convention to get around the hall. It was nice to catch up with old friends and learn about new products. Some of the new services and products are a bit gimmicky. Others seem to be promising to provide convenience, meaning, and value to our families. 

While I was waiting for an Uber outside of the hotel I heard someone say “Steve?” I looked over, and in surprise said “Dan?” It was Daniel Biggins, a funeral director from Boston, whom I worked with in the Medical Examiner’s office in New York City after 911. Although we stayed in touch through Facebook, etc., it was the first time we have run into each other. 

The best lesson I learned from attending the International Convention was not to wait another thirty plus years to go. There is much to be gained in our memberships in PFDA, NFDA, and International Order of the Golden Rule. It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day of serving our families, but it’s important to refresh and take advantage of the learning opportunities provided by our state and national/international associations. Spending quality time with my wife, son, and cousin and his wife, whom I see too infrequently, was icing on the cake. 

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