Dallas funeral home goes over the top on ‘Best Funeral Ever’

Best Funeral Ever

• 9 p.m. Monday


Posted 7:50am on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013

John Beckwith Jr., owner of Golden Gate Funeral Home, doesn’t believe farewell services should be sad, somber occasions.

He prefers to see the deceased’s family and friends smiling, happy and celebrating a life well-lived.

If that means turning a funeral ceremony into a winter wonderland on behalf of someone who loved the spirit of Christmas, that’s what Beckwith (dressed as Santa) and his staff will do.

If it means giving a candy-themed send-off for someone who had a sweet tooth, they’ll do that.

Golden Gate also arranges a lot of sports-themed funeral services — and given that the business is located in North Texas, many of those services are customized for lifelong Dallas Cowboys fans.

“It’s not unusual for us to put on these types of services for families,” Beckwith says. “This is our 33rd year in business and we’ve been doing it since Day One. It just depends on what the individual liked.”

Beckwith and Golden Gate have done it so long they’ve gained a reputation for flamboyant funeral ceremonies, enough that they’re showcased in an offbeat television series, Best Funeral Ever.

The seven-episode series premieres 9 p.m. Monday on TLC.

The first episode has highlights of a bowling funeral (including the casket pushing a ball down the lane for one final strike) and a wedding ceremony for the cremated remains of a married couple (two urns, one wearing a tiny tux, the other in a white flowing gown, being carried down the aisle).

Truth be told, these strange send-offs represent only a fraction of the funeral services Golden Gate does every year.

“We handle about 2,500 services a year and only about 100 are the type you might see on the show,” Beckwith says. “Most of what we do are traditional services. I suppose 100 would be considered a lot for another funeral home, but as far as we’re concerned, that’s a very small percentage.”

Still, there’s enough strangeness to provide fodder for a surprise-filled TV show.

Subsequent episodes feature a track-and-field funeral for a former Olympian (with the casket doing the 100-meter dash), a football funeral (capped by a field goal kick) and a game show funeral.

Beckwith says he can’t remember how the company became associated with specialty funerals.

“It wasn’t just one particular service that put us over the top,” he says. “It’s just the way we do business. We’ve always offered families the opportunity to do whatever they wanted to do.”

Beckwith characterizes himself as “the Tiger Woods of funeral services,” which is to say he was a “prodigy” who learned the ins and outs of the business from his father, who established the business in 1980 in Waxahachie.

Golden Gate has since opened two other locations: in Dallas in 1985 and in Lancaster in 1999.

Beckwith says there’s nothing he’d rather be doing for a living.

“There’s no question that this is what I’ll be doing for the rest of my life,” he says. “Helping people and giving them the opportunity to say goodbye to their loved ones is what it’s all about.

“When you see the looks on their faces, when you hear the comments from these families about how we’ve taken the worst day of their lives and made it a good memory, that’s worth everything.”

Beckwith says he hopes the show encourages people to talk about their funeral wishes before it’s too late.

“It’s a very emotional time for families to come in and make funeral arrangements,” he says. “But when they have the wishes of their loved ones, either in writing or at least something that has been discussed, it makes it a lot easier for the family.”

That said, it should come as no surprise that when Beckwith passes away, he wants five days of funeral services, with each ceremony celebrating a different aspect of his personality.

“I wear many hats. I’m a volunteer police officer and a licensed minister, so there are two services right there,” he says. “I’m also a longtime Dallas Cowboys fan and season-ticket holder, so that has to be one of my services, too. And there are others. I’ve had it all spelled out in writing for years.”

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