Ronald O. Hill: A family man serving families

Sandra ClarkHalls

Family matters at Mynatt Funeral Home, now with locations in Fountain City, Halls and Powell. Today we write about Ronald O. Hill, one of three second-generation owners. He died on Sunday, September 1, 2019, at age 77.

Called Ronnie as a boy, Mr. Hill lived on Hill Road in Halls Crossroads. His father was the well-known preacher Walter Hill and Ron grew up traveling with him to revivals and funerals. That sparked his interest in helping people, said daughter Angie.  He served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War and devoted 58 years to his career as a funeral director at Mynatt Funeral Home. A faithful member of Salem Baptist Church, he and wife Judy raised three children: Angela, Jenny and Mark.

Judy Walker Hill laughs when recalling the day she got Ronald to sing with Hovie Lister and The Statesmen Quartet. They had attended an annual southern gospel convention in Greenville, South Carolina. A singer was late and Lister was trying to stall. He asked if anyone in the audience wanted to come up and sing. Judy quickly grabbed Ronald’s arm and raised it. The crowd cheered and he was pulled up on stage. “And that’s how he got to sing with Hovie.”

Amazingly, Ronald knew the words to a trove of gospel songs. He often sang with his friend Jimbo Duncan playing the piano. Angie later studied piano and was able to accompany her dad. When dementia seized his memory, Ronald could still remember the words to his gospel songs. Judy says, “We would turn on the songs and he would stand up and begin singing.” He heard and understood the music while in a medically-induced coma, and the family played his songs as they gathered when he passed away.

In the early days, hearses doubled as ambulances and men slept at the funeral home, ready to answer a call 24/7. And that’s how a young Ronald Hill acquired the nickname “Batman.” Seems he was sleeping at Mynatt’s in Fountain City in the middle of winter. He heard a noise, grabbed the nearest weapon – a baseball bat – and pursued the intruder, a man with a knife ruffling through the office desk, looking for money.

“In his underwear out in the snow, Dad chased the guy,” Angie says. “Somehow, he got back into the building and crawled under the bed. But his legs and feet stuck out. Dad jumped on the bed and started bashing him with the bat.” Finally, law enforcement arrived to rescue the intruder.

Buddy Coomer, now corporate president of Mynatt, said he learned the business “from my dad and your dad,” Angie said. And when Ronald was near death, she phoned Buddy who was on vacation in Wyoming. “He drove 17 hours straight to get here,” Angie said. “He was with dad when he died.”

At the opening of the Powell chapel, Buddy Coomer said, “We treat all families like they were our family. We provide old-school service to families, directed by our great staff.” As the company’s introduction to Powell, Mynatt Funeral Home donated $10,000 toward construction of the soon-to-open Angora Frog Farm, a Powell park for little kids. A musical play structure will be dedicated to the memory of Ronald Hill. Angie Hill provided a clip of Ron singing with Jimbo Duncan. It’s reflective of a gentle man in a simpler time.

Mynatt now has 53 full- and part-time employees. With Angie Hill as his partner and office manager, Buddy Coomer wants to diversify the staff with a balance of gender, age, race and ethnicity. “It’s not 1975 anymore,” he says.

Sandra Clark is editor/CEO of Knox TN Today Inc.


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