BY COREY GIVENS JR., Guest Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – Robert L. Creal Sr. found joy in bringing comfort and solace to the lives of others after the passing of a loved one.
Creal passed away peacefully on Wednesday evening at Bayfront Hospital surrounded by family, friends and other funeral directors from throughout the Tampa Bay area. He was 88.
Born July 3, 1926 the Tampa native came to St. Petersburg in 1950 and shortly thereafter landed an apprenticeship at Williams Funeral Home.
Being the driven person that he was, Creal worked his way up within the funeral home and eventually found himself in partnership Williams. He purchased the funeral home in 1954 and it operated as Creal-Williams for ten years, until finally changing the name to Creal Funeral Home in 1964.
The World War II veteran spent the past 64 years of his life as a community servant, always just a phone call away from those who required his services. Whether he was picking up a body from the morgue or acting as an ambulance transporter, he always served with a smile and took pride in what he did.
Carlton Anderson, 54, credits Creal for saving his life after almost dying from drinking rat poisoning as a young boy.
“Back then black people had to call the funeral home if there was a medical emergency. One day I came home from school, took a sip of what I thought was a bottle of Coke, but it was actually rat poisoning. I called Mr. Creal; he picked me up in his hearse and drove me to Mercy Hospital just in time for them to pump my stomach. He saved my life and for that I’m forever grateful.”
Creal Funeral Home was the starting grounds for dozens of up-and-coming morticians.
Jerome Smith, owner & operator of Smith Funeral Home, was one of many Licensed Funeral Directors who got their start at Creal Funeral Home.
“I started out at Creal’s in 1977. He gave a young man like me a chance. His dedication to his profession and the compassion he showed to people in his time of need is what I’ll remember most.”
Robert Young, owner of Young’s Funeral Home in Clearwater recalled the personal relationship that he shared with his friend and colleague.
“We were more than just friends… He was my mentor, my godfather and my friend. He taught me something I never learned in mortuary school, and that was how to be compassionate.”
Creal was no stranger to death. He had to bury both of his parents, four brothers, and a host of other family members.
Creal is responsible for handling funeral arrangements of thousands people over the span of his six decades in the funeral business.
Farrell Speights met Creal while attending Gupton-Jones College in Atlanta. After finishing school in 1995, Creal offered Speights a job at Creal Funeral Home.
“Some of those people he buried for free — some of them for little or nothing. He didn’t do what he did for fame, but he did it because he loved his community,” said Speights.
Creal was known for being a man of his word and for not being too keen on accepting charity. Recently, he fell on some difficult financial times, but he refused to let that get the best of him. After losing his second funeral chapel on 20th Avenue and 9th Street South, he decided that he needed some outside help. In 2010 he brought in Leon Thomas III to help restore the glory of Creal Funeral Home.
“He set precedence for all funeral directors who followed in his footsteps. He was soft spoken, but never shied away from telling you the truth.”
With financial woes still hanging over its head, the future of Creal Funeral Home remains uncertain. However, Thomas says that the funeral home will keep their doors open for business to the community, as they have done since 1954.
Mr. Creal is preceded in death by his wife, Keturah Sanchez-Creal.
Survivors include one son, Robert “Bobby” Creal Jr; and two grandchildren.
Funeral service will be held Tues., Sept. 23 at 11 a.m., St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church, 1301 37th St. S., St Petersburg. Public wake will be held Sun., Sept. 21 from 2-8 p.m. at Creal Funeral Home.