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Cottageville woman joins local mortuary business

A Cottageville woman is setting a new standard in her family, as she is one of the first college-educated woman in her family and is also one of the youngest dual certified female African American funeral directors to ever come from Colleton County.

Rhonyai Brown, 22, took – and passed – her final exams on Thursday. Her recent graduation from the Gupton-Jones College of Funeral Services in Atlanta, Ga. – and last week’s passing of her boards – makes her one of the youngest documented female funeral directors in the county. The Colleton County High School graduate is now employed with Koger’s Mortuary in Walterboro.

There, she will be supervising funerals and also acting as a funeral director, she said.

Brown says she became interested in the mortuary business when her cousin died several years ago.

“I wanted to know why she looked the way she did, and it made become interested in the process and start asking questions,” she said. From there, her interest in the profession grew. Brown then went to Atlanta and attended the private mortuary school. “She worked very hard for it. It was a real struggle for her to make it, but we are so very proud of her,” said Brown’s mother, Virginia Brown.

Virginia Brown says that her daughter was even homeless for a period of time while attending school. “The school is very strict, so she couldn’t even work while going there. But she studied hard and she made it. We had some people who wanted her to give up, and come home,” said Virginia Brown. “But she was persistent, and she studied hard and made it through.

“She is the first one in our family who has done something like this, and who went after this kind of profession,” she said.

Brown says she has had a lot of family support during her process to become a funeral director. She says that she believes the now male-dominated industry is starting to attract more female funeral directors. “It’s a predominately male-dominated profession, but I’m glad I’m in it and I’m happy to see more women starting to get involved in the industry,” she said.

In celebrating her accomplishment, Brown and her mother said they want to thank their church family, their pastor, Rev. Jerry Harrison, and Andre and Donna Haynes. Brown also thanks her employer and gives a great deal of credit to her aunt, the former Mary Sarah Miller. “She was always very supportive of me and believed that I could do this,” said Brown, speaking of Miller.

Brown also wants to thank Brian Vandyke, who helped her financially during college; Elvis Daniels, who helped her to commute from Colleton County to Atlanta; Marion Daniels and Randolph Miller; and Joshua Broughton, a “special friend,” who she says encouraged her to study.

Heather Walters (1410 Posts)