For David Clayton, this is the main reason for his decision to go into the funeral service business. After losing his father, he decided he would love to give back to others in the same way his family was treated by the funeral home in charge of his services. He has worked for years helping families during their darkest hours and has a personality that is sure to benefit Tri-County Funeral Home, where he recently became the company's manager.
Upon meeting Clayton, his personality immediately killed the dark silent funeral director stereotype. As I entered the funeral home for my interview with Clayton, I met him kneeling on the floor by his desk showing a fellow employee a slideshow he made of his son, who had left only two days prior with the 875th to be deployed to Afghanistan for his third tour of duty, the two prior deployments being in Iraq. The 875th Engineering Battalion is a Jonesboro based National Guard Unit. His first statement to me was, "I bet you were expecting someone taller." Clayton's humor and fun attitude immediately calmed my fears of the prospective encounter I had envisioned as a monotone old man in a moth ball smelling suit that never smiled.
In 1987, he began working part-time for Irby Funeral Home in Piggott, Rector and Marmaduke and also worked for both Rector Emergency Medical Services and the Rector Fire Department.
In 2007, Clayton was deployed with his guard unit to Iraq where he worked in route clearance, clearing grounds so other troops could go over the areas to complete their missions. While serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Clayton was on duty the day Saddam Hussein was executed in 2006. On top of his field hat a patch is displayed to commemorate the event, that, to many, was a major part of American history. More unbelievably was that his two sons were also deployed at the same time to the region, although in different areas.
Although this is one of the most dangerous jobs in the military, it is also a necessary job. Clayton said he was one of the older ones and didn't mind doing the job, but was very humble about his service to the country. While in Iraq in 2007, Clayton was seriously injured by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) causing him severe hearing loss, a traumatic brain injury and back and neck injuries. His upbeat attitude about his injuries indicate that he would rather not dwell on them, but rather he told of the young men, who lost their lives and how lucky he was to be alive. His humor and good attitude is undoubtedly the key to his overcoming such a traumatic injury, one which earned Clayton a purple heart and several Army commendations.
Some of the highlights of Clayton's tours of duty in Iraq included getting to hug Carrie Underwood, seeing the Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints cheerleaders among other entertainers who visited Iraq through the USO was also very special to Clayton. He said the American people were so good to him while he was overseas.
Clayton had an elderly lady from Boston who "adopted" him while he was overseas. He said she sent him CD's, books and even made him hats. He said one of the most sought after things while he was in Iraq was hometown newspapers. He said everyone loved getting those for some glimpse of what was happening at home.
Clayton began working in funeral service in 1991. In 1999, he then went to Northwestern University in Southaven, Miss., and earned an associate of applied science degree in mortuary service. He laughed and said he remembers very vividly the 125 mile drive from Rector five days a week.
After getting his degree, Clayton was employed full-time by Irby Funeral Home in Piggott, Rector and Marmaduke, Mitchell Funeral Home in Rector as a manager and at McDaniel Funeral Home in Kennett, Mo.
Clayton's son, Marcus Keller, is 23 and has served two tours of duty in Iraq, one with the 875th, and one with the 39th infantry out of Walnut Ridge, where he volunteered and was deployed with his younger brother, Aaron. After arriving in Iraq, the two were separated. He currently lives in Rector and has a 6-week-old son, Jaxon.
Aaron Clayton, David's youngest son, left for his third tour of duty in Afghanistan on Nov. 10. Aaron married his wife, Fallon, shortly before his deployment and the couple are expecting Clayton's fourth grandchild in April. Aaron is due home from Iraq next October. His dad said, "He said he would be home just in time for deer season." Clayton also has a daughter, Ashley Lopez, she and her husband, Louis, have two children, 2-year-old, Tyson, and 1-year old, Jillian.
Clayton said, "If I ever lose the desire to care, I want to be out of the business." He further stated, "Anyone can sell a casket, it is the service that counts." He said he would also like to thank everyone in the community he has met and the warm welcome he has received. He was especially thankful to Renee Clay-Circle and Aaron Circle, Alan Price and Angela Goodman, who he said have been so helpful in helping him fit into the job and the area.
He said he and his wife, Jewell, look forward to moving to the area as a family and becoming a part of the community. He is interested in getting involved in the school system and meeting new people. Clayton invites the public to come by Tri-County Funeral Home to meet him.