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For nearly 40 years, House of Winston Mortuary has been a pillar in the South Los Angeles community, not just as a business that carefully handles lost loved ones, but also as a partner of goodwill.
The late James Winston who had been introduced to the business by his father who was an insurance salesman established the business in 1974. He was primarily inspired by his desire to help others in need. Founding the funeral company was not his primary goal, but fulfilled a tremendous void along south Vermont Ave. in Los Angeles near Century Blvd. His first responsibility was to make funeral costs affordable, and he subsequently educated many in the community about planning for themselves and family members.
Winston was a revolutionary and a visionary during his era and the colors of green and gold he chose for House of Winston Mortuary Inc. are still symbolic today. The company’s acronym is H.O.W., and a welcome mat spelling that out still sits at the doorway of the funeral home that has cared for so many including labor leader and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez and the iconic singer Whitney Houston.
The business was a tireless effort for Winston, 24-hours a day and seven days a week. He died in 1991, but during the past 22 years since his death the House of Winston has been sustaining his legacy through his widow, Mary Louise Winston. Mrs. Winston assumed the position as President/CEO of House of Winston Mortuary following her husband’s death in 1991.
“I do believe that he just worked himself to death, making this funeral home what it is today and I have a responsibility to maintain it for him,” said Mrs. Winston.
A graduate of Jefferson High School in Los Angeles, Mary Louise recently celebrated her 65th reunion at her alma mater. Now, 82-years old, Mrs. Winston still drives and loves spending time with friends on social outings. “I feel really good for a girl my age,” she says with a smile.
Born as an amputee with her left arm severed at the elbow, she was greeted to a surprise birthday celebration in June and was the full life of the party. Mrs. Winston has worked for the Los Angeles Unified School District as an accountant, with Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company with Johnny Cochran Sr. (father of the famed attorney) who is still a good friend today, and is a member of many community organizations such as the YMCA, National Funeral Directors & Morticians Association (NFDMA), Inc. and the 100 Black Women of which she sponsors awards and provides scholarships to further student’s education in the funeral industry.
“I am typically doing what my husband would have been doing and I am sure that he’s somewhere up there smiling and happy,” Mrs. Winston stated. Asked what she foresees in the future for the House of Winston, she said, “Well, I can promise you that this legacy and tradition will continue. This has been a pillar in this community and it will remain as such. That is what my husband wanted and that is what this community deserves.”
Mrs. Winston has received many certificates and awards throughout the years including recognition from Congresswoman Maxine Waters and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
From August 3rd through August 8th, Mrs. Winston will be attending the76th Annual NFDMA National Convention in New Orleans, La. “This will be a wonderful time to see some old friends in the industry and meet some new ones. As our business evolves into a new technological phase, it is important for us to keep moving forward with new ways to comfort and attract business,” she said.
She annually sponsors an event for families who have done business with the company throughout the years. “This is just our way of saying thank you and it is a tradition that my husband started many years ago,” concluded Mrs. Winston.
Her nephew Edward Washington credits Mrs. Winston for the success that he has enjoyed as a funeral director. “She has always been very positive, open and honest. I have nothing, but love for her. She has been a tremendous influence on me and without her encouragement I may not be the funeral director that I am today,” said Washington.