Howard McComas IV Builds Relationships at Work and in the Community
Balance. It’s something that everyone strives for in life – balance between work and family and doing the things you love with the chores that must get done. It’s definitely not easy, and when you are running a business, raising a family and finding time to give back to the local community, the challenge becomes even greater. For Howard K. McComas IV, president of McComas Funeral Home, striking the right balance involves determining what’s truly important, valuing relationships and sometimes learning to say no.
McComas IV is part of the sixth-generation, family-owned funeral business that has remained in the same family since 1808. He works alongside his sister, Holly, and his father, Howard McComas III. The company has two locations – one in Bel Air and one in Abingdon, which was built in 1971, a block from where the original funeral home once stood. “We started in Abingdon on Route 7 and added the Bel Air location in 1993. I always joke that we’ve moved 200 yards in 200 years,” says McComas, who was born in Abingdon and graduated from Edgewood High School. “I grew up a quarter-mile from our Abingdon location,” he recalls.
“When it was time to cut the grass, vacuum the rooms or wash the cars, I was called to do it. I always tell folks that my dad bought me the smallest suit ever made; I was in a coat and tie before I could barely ride a bike. I grew up around this business and got to see the value of this business.”And although McComas has fond memories of his childhood, he says it was necessary to go away for college, so he attended Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., where he earned a bachelor of science degree in business administration, while also playing football. “I needed to clear my head and gain perspective. If I was going to work in the family-owned business, I needed to do this place justice. It then hit me in the head – six generations and a 200-year relationship with the Harford County community … I recognized the value of what we do.” McComas also recognized the importance of staying a family-owned business and not selling the company to a national chain, like some of his competitors have.
“We’ve certainly been approached by national chains because we are the most frequently selected provider of funeral services in Harford County. But, there’s a need to stay family-owned and a value to that. We’ve seen over the years with some of our competitors [who have been bought out] the difference in service delivery to families,” McComas says. “Let’s face it … when you’re talking three, four, let alone six generations, it’s not something you can turn your back on. You feel a responsibility to continue that tradition.”
Equally important to McComas is the ability to serve the Harford County community through philanthropic endeavors. “As I get older, I realize more than ever that you are not here by yourself; things all work together. There’s a synergy. We have a business that provides a high level of service to families, but it doesn’t stop there because you realize after being in business for a long time that your business is based on relationships that you create in the community. It’s not like a chain where you come in for the best deal; you come into a business like ours because you trust the people in there running the business and those who work there. Harford County is still an area where things happen based on relationships. That’s one of the reasons I came back here.”
And in today’s technology-driven society and workplace, McComas realizes that the relationships he and his family have formed over 200 years are more important than ever. “Today’s society is based less and less on interpersonal relationships, but we spend two to three hours with a family, and it’s just about their loved one and the family to determine how to pay the best tribute to their loved one. Everyone who works here has it in their heart to work one-on-one with the families who come to us. You have to … you can’t hide in this business; you wear it on your sleeve,” he says. It’s this dedication to the families of Harford County that earned McComas Funeral Home the 2008 “Service Business of the Year” by the Harford County Chamber of Commerce. The timing was fitting since the year marked the 200th anniversary of the founding of the company, which is the oldest, continuously operated, family-owned funeral home in the state.
And beyond serving families in their time of need, McComas also finds time to volunteer with local non-profit groups, including serving on the Board of Directors at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Harford County. “I was looking for a philanthropic wing to get involved in. For years, our business has worked with area churches and civic organizations like the Lions Club and helped them financially. I wanted to become involved, and as you look around, you see one of those organizations like the Boys and Girls Clubs, and it’s a no-brainer – even in its name. Especially in this challenging time where many kids have it pretty tough at home – they are starting behind the mark and struggling with where to go after school. It’s been very fulfilling to work with them, and it’s helped me become more well-rounded in my life.”
“Howard has been an active Board Member for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Harford County for the past nine years. In addition to being a wonderful advocate for the clubs, he has shown great leadership in organizing and running Kiss-a-Pig, one of our signature fundraising events,” says Jeff Foulk, Chief Executive Officer of SURVICE Engineering Company and chairperson of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Harford County.
McComas also served on the Board of Trustees for Harford Community College for eight years and continues to give back to the school via the Harford Community County Foundation, Inc., which helps raise funds for student scholarships.
McComas learned the importance of giving back from his father, Howard McComas III, who was raised at the old McComas Funeral Home in Abingdon. In addition to being a member of Cokesbury United Methodist Church since 1954 and currently serving on the Board of Trustees, the elder Howard became a member of the Abingdon Volunteer Fire Company in 1959. “Even before I was old enough to join, I went down there to help wash the trucks,” he says. He is also a member of the Edgewood Lions Club and has volunteered with the Retired Maryland State Police. “My grandfather was a charter member of the Abingdon Volunteer Fire Company, my father then joined, and then I did. I’ve always said that the Harford County community has been good to us, so we all try to stay as active as we can.” Holly Kimble McComas, a principle, funeral director and part of the sixth-generation at McComas Funeral Home, also knows the importance of community involvement. She’s active in the Abingdon Volunteer Fire Company, the Maryland State Funeral Directors Association, where she served as president, and she started the “Widow/Widowers Bus Trip to Longwood Gardens” program. “The Longwood program has been a wonderful way to get people together and remind them that we don’t forget about them after their service is over. In our business, the reward is not the paycheck but the opportunity to help someone through a difficult situation,” she says.
But as any successful businessperson knows, it’s tempting to allow yourself to get stretched thin by being on multiple boards. “You have to strike a balance and sometimes say no,” says Howard McComas IV. He has also found a way to give back while still spending time with his family. “My wife, Cheryl, and I have a 9-year-old and a 13-year-old, and I coach their lacrosse and basketball teams. I get to help out, but I also get to be with my boys. They enjoy playing sports – it’s an important part of their lives but it’s not everything. Again, it’s about balance.”
Another delicate balance with the McComas family involves the emotional elements that come along with family members working together. “It can be a blessing and an amazing challenge,” McComas laughs. “Sometimes the emotional attachments that arise during difficult business decisions can make it difficult. I will not say that because of 200 years’ experience, we have the family business thing down pat, but everyone understands their role, and it’s a blessing to work with your family every day.” I95