Tradition and service walk hand in hand at Fitzpatrick's Funeral Home of Saint John - the oldest family funeral firm in New Brunswick.

Patrick Fitzpatrick (1833-1918) established the funeral home in 1864, coming to Canada from Clonmel, County Tipperary in southern Ireland. He was a cabinetmaker by trade, but like others before him, he found that carpenters and cabinetmakers were being asked to make caskets. From casket making the business evolved into looking after the deceased.

The original Fitzpatrick premises were located on Princess Street but it was consumed in the great fire that swept Saint John in 1877. The business was relocated to a new site at 100 Waterloo Street in 1887. By the 1880's, Patrick ceased to be known as a cabinetmaker and became a full-time funeral director.

He died in 1918, at the age of 83 years. Patrick's son, Patrick J. Fitzpatrick and his wife Frances Augustus (Boyce) became the second generation to assume responsibility for the business. They were the first arterial embalmers in New Brunswick, having graduated from the New York School of Embalming in 1916 and having heavy, glass framed "sheepskins" to show for it.

Patrick J. died in 1934 at the age of sixty-four and son Hugh went to Syracuse for his embalming training.

"My grandfather bought this building right after the big fire. It was a two and a half story residence and Grandpa squared it off at the front," Hugh G. was fond of recalling.

"At one time we had a big barn in the back and there were horses to pull the hearses. We'd often come home from school and ride the horses bareback. Things changed when motor vehicles appeared and I'd often hear people complain that nobody was taking them to the cemetery in one of those darned machines..

Hugh G. was born August 9, 1907 in the funeral home that was to be his work and his haven all the days of his life. Just across the street stands the stately spire of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception where he would direct funeral services for many a year.

For more than half a century, Hugh G. served bereaved families in the Saint John and Southern New Brunswick regions. He was an honorary life member of Council No. 937 Knights of Columbus and a member of St. Patrick's Society of Saint John.

He was a past-president of the New Brunswick Funeral Directors and Embalmers Association and received an honorary life membership in that organization in September 1985 in recognition of his service to the funeral profession.

He was also present in Moncton at the 1959 annual meeting of the Atlantic Provinces Funeral Directors and Service Convention and received a Certificate of Recognition for firms established prior to, or during, 1908 and still in existence in 1958.

His wife, the former Dorothy Hogan, predeceased Hugh G. in January 1984. They were married August 21, 1939 and two children were born to their union: Hugh E. and daughter Mary (Hogan). Dorothy would often help out at the funeral home and also served on the local school board.

The fourth generation of Fitzpatrick's to enter the business, Hugh E. began his apprenticeship at the family funeral home in 1964, receiving his professional license in 1966. Hugh's only son, and fifth generation member, Hugh G., earned his professional license in November, 1991 but eventually chose not to remain in the profession. Hugh also has a daughter, Mary Colleen (Woodhouse).

"This line of work is the only thing I could ever see myself doing," said Hugh E. "I chose it because of the service I could provide and it is a fine profession."

He first became interested in the funeral service when he was in grade ten and started his apprenticeship at the family funeral home in 1964, receiving his license in 1966.

Types of funerals have changed. When Hugh E. began, about thirty percent of funerals held their wakes at home. This seldom, if ever, happens now.

In recent years, the Fitzpatrick location has been expanded. A new chapel, visitation room and coffee room were added to the existing facility. The casket selection area was expanded; a garage put into part of the underground warehouse space and additional parking created. In total, the expansion added an extra seventy-three hundred square feet to the hundred-and-twenty-one-year old building.

Hugh E. is a fourth degree Past Faithful Navigator, Council No. 937 Knights of Columbus as were his father and grandfather before him. He also raises standard bred racehorses and serves on the Maritime Provinces Harness Racing Commission - the only racing commission serving more than one state or province in the USA or Canada.

He's also a past-president of the Saint John Harness Horseman's Association and served a term on Saint John city council.

True to his calling, Hugh E. has taken time to serve as director and president of the New Brunswick Funeral Directors and Embalmers Association and as chairman of the annual Atlantic Provinces Funeral Directors and Service Convention.

Asked for any advice he could pass along to his colleagues, Hugh responded: "When I started in the profession, the only thing my father said to me was 'Treat the poor with kindness... and God will take care of you!' Over the years it certainly seems to have been good counsel."

Staunch Irish-Catholics, the Fitzpatricks always followed this formula for living - keep your chin up and your knees down!

Hugh E. Fitzpatrick retired as Managing Director of the firm on February 1, 2012 after more than 45 years of service to his community as a licensed funeral director. He continues to be affiliated with the firm, offering advice and guidance to his younger colleagues who are privileged to carry on the legacy of the Fitzpatrick family.

Upon his retirement, Hugh Fitzpatrick entrusted his family business to the city's only other family-owned funeral service firm, Brenan's Funeral Homes, who continue to operate Fitzpatrick's on Waterloo Street in Saint John.