By DAN WHITTLE, Courier Correspondent
J.H. “Hal” Larimer touched countless families and lives as the longtime undertaker/ambulance driver/owner at Woodbury Funeral Home located on Highway 70S, the town’s main thoroughfare.
Mr. Larimer touched countless lives as a funeral director, dating back to 1947 when he purchased into the funeral home with the late Claude Wilcher and his wife Audrey.
Mr. Larimer also was a one-third founding owner of Woodbury Radio Station WBRY, formerly WBFJ.
“My step-father was a consummate businessman, always looking to serve the public better, constantly seeking improvements, but was always compassionate to people,” described his stepson, Kenny Gilley, who presently runs Woodbury Funeral Home. “His community service goes back to the 1940s, as a member and former president of the Woodbury Lions Club.”
“He seemed to have a gift for helping hurting people during times of great personal loss,” added the stepson. “You could not ask for a better role model in life.”
“Woodbury lost one of its bedrock citizens and friend this past week with the passing of Mr. Hal Larimer,” added lifelong Cannon County resident Col. Jim Stone. “No telling the countless lives Hal Larimer touched, especially in their times of trouble.”
According to the obituary report, Mr. Larimer died peacefully at age 94, with his loving wife, Lois Gilley Larimer, at his side Monday, June 16. They had wed in December, 1996.
But Mr. Larimer was more, much more than a mere undertaker at his historic funeral parlor.
For example, he was widely known as a front porch philosopher, often seen in the locally-famous front porch rocking chairs at the funeral business.
“Hundreds of us were privileged to sit and visit with Mr. Hal on his front porch,” evidenced Col. Stone. “If I didn’t have time to stop and share a few tales with him, I’d just honk my horn.
“One day, after I drove past, Hal got hold of me on the phone, warning that some of his cattle got over on my property,” Col. Stone traced back in time. “It was no problem, because he came to my farm with a bucket of feed, and his livestock followed him back home. He loved tending to his cattle.”
“I can’t count the times I’ve sat on that front porch,” recalled Cannon County Executive Mike Gannon. “Most often, we talked cattle and farming, and not funeral home business.”
It was music that initially brought Mr. Larimer to the beautiful rolling hills of mostly rural Cannon County, moving here from Erwin, Tenn., where he was born March 7, 1920.
“I recall at night, as a boy, sitting on the hillside with my friends, and listening to Hal Larimer make music with his big bass fiddle,” Col. Stone noted. “When he hooked up with the legendary Billy Womack, and his wife, they would entertain us free of charge for hours.”
“It was his music skill that brought him to Woodbury,” verified Woodbury Mayor Harold Patrick. “He got off the Greyhound bus in Woodbury armed with his big bass fiddle. He married into the music-making Womack family with his first wife Iris Womack. He loved making music and we loved him for it.”
Mr. Larimer and his ambulance traveled all the back roads of the county during emergencies.
“As children, we’d watch for the ambulance with its big flashing red light to come by,” added Col. Stone. “And on scary foggy nights, as little fellers, we’d sometimes slip up to the funeral home, and look in at the coffins and then run off spooked into the dark of the night.”
“We can’t count the number of injured people whose lives he saved in that old ambulance,” tabulated Mayor Patrick.
“If he didn’t haul you as an injured wreck victim, chances are good that Mr. Larimer hauled a member of your family as an infant after being born at Good Samaritan Hospital,” accounted County Executive Gannon.
“And Mr. Hal helped start a new bank here in our community,” added Mayor Patrick. “He was a smart, astute businessman who prospered here, but then Woodbury prospered more by having him as one of our leading citizens.”
Legendary retired Woodbury banker/Smith Funeral Home owner Bill Smith recalls Mr. Larimer as a good citizen.
“Hal always supported good community events, a very good and accommodating community man,” accounted Mr. Smith.
At age 96, Mr. Smith knows about long-time good citizens of Woodbury and Cannon County.