Pamela C. Rayner — who grew up above family funeral home she later took reins of — dies at 65

Ms. Rayner comforted thousands of families as funeral director and co-owner of A.A. Rayner and Sons Funeral Home on the South Side.

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Pamela C. Rayner


In the ’60s, thuds coming from the ceiling could sometimes be heard during services at A.A. Rayner and Sons Funeral Home on the South Side.

Peeved, but trying not to show it around grieving customers, A.A. “Sammy” Rayner Jr., whose father started the business in 1947, would hustle upstairs and scold his six kids who were running around the family’s apartment.

One of those kids, Pamela Rayner, ended up taking over the business, and adopted her dad’s professionalism at one of the city’s most iconic Black funeral homes.

She enforced dress code, being on time was a must and upkeep of facilities was essential.

Before she left at night, she looked under the pews, checked the washrooms and took a finger to furniture to check for dust.

“Once a family made arrangements with her, she was a part of the family,” said co-owner and cousin Charles Childs Jr. “She took the responsibility very seriously. She showed compassion and caring.”

Family recalled how once Ms. Rayner, after tending to the funeral of an elderly man, went grocery shopping for his homebound wife.

“And she was very disappointed in the current gun violence that’s plagued our city and other communities around the country,” Childs said.

Her duties may have been somber, but she had a sprightly side, like when she’d tag you before exiting a gathering and quickly announce “last tagged!” before running to get in her car.

Ms. Rayner died Aug. 13 following complications from a surgery. She was 65.

Her sister, Donna Rayner, who also works for the family business, carried out Ms. Rayner’s funeral wishes, which included: a flourish of lavender, in line with her birthstone, and no sad music — Motown.

“I had to make sure it was done right because I didn’t want her coming back and haunting me for the rest of my life,” she said with a laugh.

The sisters had been through a lot, like nudging childhood friends past the hesitancy of not wanting to come over to play because they lived above a funeral home.

And there was the time they were home alone while their parents were at dinner and someone broke into the funeral home.

“We heard someone playing the organ, and then someone coming up the steps,” Donna Rayner recalled. “I deadbolted the door and Pamela grabbed a knife.”

Whoever it was, they went away without incident, she said.

“But, really, it was one of the safest places to live because people are afraid of dead people,” she said without a laugh.

Ms. Rayner, who lived in Bronzeville and never married, was a godparent seven times over and took her duties seriously.

She loved visiting Arkansas with her late mother and the Michael Jordan era of the Chicago Bulls — the family had season tickets.

Ms. Rayner also was a former president of the Illinois Selected Morticians Association, co-founded by her father.

“She was an outstanding individual and a true professional,” said Spencer Leak Sr., head of Leak and Sons Funeral Homes, another of Chicago’s iconic Black, family-run funeral homes. “You could not ask for a more caring person for those families that she serviced. She will be missed in our industry.”

Services have been held.

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