MHamaludin@sfltimes.comPLANTATION — Jeanette Kelley is fond of telling you that she takes care of people from the cradle to the grave. Soon, if you get into trouble with the law in-between, she may be able to help you there also.

Kelley, 51, is a registered nurse who works at the maternity ward of the Jackson North Medical Center in Miami Gardens. She is also a licensed funeral director who “helps out” at two funeral homes. And she is about done with her first year of law studies at Florida International University.

Soon she will have yet another award to hang in her Plantation home.

Members of the First Regional District of the Florida Morticians Association (FMA) have just picked Kelley as their 2011 Mortician of the Year. She will be feted at a gala in her honor on Sunday, May 15,  at the Renaissance Hotel in Plantation.

An FMA statement said the organization chooses its mortician of the year from among members “who have demonstrated high principles and exemplary work in the field of funeral service… and have shown leadership, made significant contributions to the profession, distinguished himself/herself in community service activities and hold outstanding records of service to the FMA at the local, regional and state levels.”

Kelley has 30 years of experience in funeral service and is active in her local, state and national professional funeral associations.

She has earned the Certified Funeral Service Practitioner (CFSP) designation from the Academy of Professional Funeral Service Practice and is a member of the Florida Emergency Mortuary Operations Response Systems.

Kelley’s love of the mortuary sciences began when she was a girl accompanying her grandmother, Fannie Jacobs, to services at New Hope Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale, across the street from the Roy Mizell & Kurtz Funeral Home.

“After services, my grandmother would walk across the street to the funeral home to look at the dead bodies,” she recalled in an interview on Tuesday.

“I was about 8 years-old and I would go with her and I wanted to know how they did this and how they did that. My grandmother told me if I wanted to know about it, I would have to go to school to learn about it,” she said.

But Kelley’s mother, Fannie Burns, had a different plan for her daughter.

“She told me girls don’t want to work in the funeral business,” Kelley said. “She told me that I should become a nurse. I told her I didn’t want to be a nurse. I wanted to be a mortician. She was never able to talk me out of it all through high school.”

As soon as she graduated from Boyd Anderson High in Fort Lauderdale, Kelley began attending the mortician program at Miami Dade College’s North Campus and graduated in 1979 with a degree in mortuary sciences. She interned for a year with Richardson Funeral Home in Miami and was licensed by the state as a funeral director in 1980.

She has worked with several funeral homes, but now mostly works with Hall-Ferguson-Hewitt Mortuary in Miami and Shuler’s Memorial Chapel in Delray Beach in Palm Beach County.

So what’s this about being a registered nurse?

Perhaps to satisfy her mother’s wishes, Kelley did attend nursing school, going back to school at Miami Dade College and eventually graduated as a registered nurse in 1995. She works at Jackson North on an “as needed” basis in the maternity department.  Since she is not on the full-time staff, she is able to work as a funeral director part-time. She also accepts short-term nursing assignments that have taken her to several states, including Alaska and Hawaii because she holds 13 state licenses in nursing.

In between all that, Kelley found time to take classes and graduate recently with a bachelor of science in Criminal Justice from FIU.

“I did it to see if I wanted to study law,” she said. She did and she subsequently enrolled at FIU’s law school where she has nearly finished her first year in that program, with her mind set to become an attorney.

But, hold on: “I don’t really want to be an attorney,” she said. “It’s just for the knowledge.”

But when she graduates, she will become an advocate for youths in the justice system.

Mortuary sciences, nursing, criminal justice and law. Is there a first love, though?

“I don’t think I would ever give up being a funeral director,” she said. 

And the members of the Florida Morticians Association no doubt have recognized her qualifications, experience and affection for the profession when selecting her for their top award.

R.R. Reed and a group of young energetic black undertakers formed the forerunner of the FMA in the 1900s as the Florida Negro Embalmers and Morticians Association.

“Their aim was to be governed and organized by a common bond, goal and high standard of ethics to provide quality care to their own people,” according to an FMA statement.