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Our History

The Woody funeral business in Orange started in 1913 when Mary Colson Woody opened the Woody Funeral Home in her home at 163 Central Place. She was the first woman funeral director licensed by the State of New Jersey.

 

Mary Colson Woody was born in Petersburg, Virginia in 1874. She attended Petersburg public schools and studied nursing at the Dixie School of Nursing in Hampton, Virginia. While working in Danville, Virginia she met and later married David D. Woody in 1902.

 

Jim Crow laws existing in the South at this time, not only restricted the personal freedoms of African-Americans but also limited their employment opportunities. For this reason the couple decided to migrate North after their marriage. They were at the vanguard of what came to be known as the Great Migration, the relocation of several million African-Americans from the southern states to northern cities. After settling in New Jersey, David D. Woody went into the funeral business and established the Woody Funeral Home that thrived for over sixty years in the North Ward of Newark.

 

The funeral business was a relatively new industry that really started during the Civil War, little more than fifty years earlier. Most of the preparation of the body took place in the home of the deceased. After embalming and dressing the body at home, a casket was brought to the house and a wake was held in the “parlor” or living room. This was followed by the funeral at a church. A unique segment of Mrs. Woody’s clientele were unmarried women she served - often domestics - who preferred a lady embalmer.

 

Mrs. Woody became an active member of the Orange community. She was a founding member and longtime treasurer of the Orange Chapter of the NAACP and was very active in the St. John’s Methodist Church located at that time on Hickory Street in Orange. Mrs. Woody moved her business to 200 Central Avenue in Orange in the 1930’s.

 

In 1942 the business moved to its present location at 163 Oakwood Avenue. Mary Woody retired in 1944 and the funeral home was taken over by her eldest son, T. Colson Woody, a graduate of Virginia State College and New York University School of Business. In addition to running the funeral home, he established a small tax preparation business and the funeral home name was changed to Woody “Home For Services”. Colson was appointed to the Orange Planning Board and the Orange board of Education and was active with the Oakwood YMCA, the “Colored” Y and the Boy Scout Troop at Union Baptist Church.

 

Clifford White began working at the business in 1949. Born and raised in Newark, Clifford he was a life long member of Bethany Baptist Church in Newark. He served on Trustee Board at Bethany and was also on the board of the Newark Boys Club. In 1965 the business was incorporated and Clifford R. White became one of the stockholders.

 

In the early 60’s John Scott Lee, of East Orange and Russell Jackson of Montclair joined the staff. John, who started while still in high school continued at the funeral home for over 50 years until his death in 2014. Russell has remained on the staff for over fifty years.

 

An addition to the funeral home in 1972 doubled its space to include a chapel and lounge. After the death of Colson Woody in 1974, Clifford White managed the business until his death in 1987. Colson Woody’s youngest daughter, Ida and Clifford White’s youngest daughter, Sharon are now funeral directors continuing the business.