The Conyers-Rockdale community lost a shining light when George Levett Sr. passed away in August 2004. But his children and grandchildren ensure that his values, teachings and legacy live on in the Levett Funeral Home, at 1041 Bryant Street, Conyers.
Conyers' oldest black-owned business, founded by George Levett Sr. in 1950, is still going strong, operated by his sons and daughters - Jerome Levett, County Coroner George Levett, Jr., Marilyn Levett Brown, Sonja Levett and Grote Levett. Even after their mother, matriarch Barbara Jean Bailey Levett, passed away in November 2012, the siblings continued on.
Customers and families who come to the Levett Funeral Home can expect “a friendly, personal atmosphere,” said George Jr. “They can expect to be informed about the decisions that they make.” He said many families want to send off their loved one elaborately but don’t realize the cost of doing so. “They can expect professionalism, a dignified service, to be treated like a member of the family.” They are treated as individuals, he said.
“A lot of those corporations push for the numbers. It becomes so large it’s just about the numbers so they can keep the bills paid,” he continued. But with the Levett Funeral Home, “they feel like they’re not just a number. People feel listened to,” he said.
The Levett siblings say their father’s values were instilled through word and deed.
Their father taught them to treat all people with respect. “Treat a poor man just as good as you do a rich man,” said Jerome. “He believed in everybody having something. He didn’t believe in one person takes all. For instance, if the ice cream man comes and there’s 10 kids, if he didn’t have enough to buy all the kids ice cream, none of us got ice cream… But if he had enough, everybody got some.”
He was above all a family man. Marilyn said, “Even before our mother died, one thing she said that he taught us was you stay together as a family and work closely together.”
The Levett home would be where officers and deputies would bring runaways with nowhere else to go and other displaced children. The Levett siblings would wake up in the morning or come home from school to find a random child staying with them for a short while.
“He raised so many kids in the community,” said Marilyn. “Kids from dysfunctional families. If my brothers played softball, he would sponsor (these kids) so they could play softball too.”
“There’s a lot of stuff he did we did not know,” she continued. “People tell me to this day, ‘Your daddy did such and such for me. I was down and out and I called your daddy and he made it happen for me.’ … He didn’t boast about it at all.”
George Sr. was the first full-time black police officer at the Conyers Police Department and was a deputy with the Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office for eight years.
George Sr. grew to be so influential in the community, aspiring politicians would visit to gain his support.
“Anyone who was deciding to run for anything, they’d come and sit at the table” at their home, said Marilyn. “If you want something done, you want someone on your team, he’s the one who’s going to rally people,” said granddaughter Phyllis.
George Sr. even dabbled in politics himself and ran unsuccessfully for coroner in 1996. Twelve years later, his son, George. Jr., was elected coroner and his grandson, Eric, was elected as the first black sheriff of Rockdale County in 2008.
When George Levett Sr. passed away August 9, 2004, the outpouring was immense, which he predicted.
George Jr. said his father told them, “When I die, there’s going to be so many people at my funeral, you’re going to have to get JP Carr Gym in order to have my service.” This was before First Baptist of Conyers had built their new facility on Ga. Highway 138 north, which was used for George Sr.’s funeral service.
About 2,500 to 3,000 came out to pay their respects at their father’s funeral. All the funeral directors from the area sent representatives and elected officials, city and county leaders and people across the country attended. The procession had 16 limousines and 30 hearses and shut down Ga. Highway 138 as it wound through Conyers past the Levett home.
“On every corner there was a police officer,” recalled Marilyn. “The train even stopped. We stopped the train! The whole of 138 was stopped. They said, ‘Who is that? What celebrity is that?’”
And now a third generation of Levetts is continuing the legacy. Phyllis, daughter of Sonja, is finishing her mortuary degree at Gupton Jones College of Funeral Service, like her uncle George Jr. Her cousins say they’ll go to Gupton Jones when they graduate from Morehouse College.
The funeral home is looking to expand in the near future, said George Jr. Currently it serves about 70 to 90 funeral services a year for families across the metro area. Most of the families come from counties surrounding, Rockdale.
Meanwhile, the funeral home continues its community work, donating to the local softball and little league groups, back to school projects, Toys for Tots at Christmas, turkey giveaways and the annual July 4th Community Barbecue.
For more on the Levett Funeral Home, go to www.levettfuneralhomeinc.com