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Alum overcomes trying time with TCC’s help

After sitting through her first organic chemistry class at Tidewater Community College, Dee Branch Oliver thought to herself, “I’ll quit quietly.”

Instead she persevered proudly, and today she holds an Associate of Applied Science in Funeral Service. Oliver is licensed to be a funeral director in the state of Virginia, and she is a new author of “Going Out In Style,” a witty and practical guide on preparing for the inevitable.

Dee Branch Oliver with her bookThe often daunting topic of funeral preparation never did faze Oliver, married to longtime local funeral director Johnnie Oliver, whose family business, HD Oliver Funeral Apartments, has served Hampton Roads since the Civil War. Dee met Johnnie at a funeral, accompanied him on a call regarding a funeral during their first date and after their marriage, often went to work with him.

“He worked continually, 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” said Oliver from her Oceanfront home. “Every funeral he conducted, it was as if that was the first one and the only one. He was that compassionate.”

In 2007, Johnnie suffered a brain aneurism and died at 61. “It was traumatic because I lost my best friend,” Dee said. “But when you’re in the funeral business and you bury 800 people a year, every day it doesn’t happen to you is amazing.”

Johnnie had often encouraged Dee to study mortuary science. She told no one when she signed up for that first class at TCC and felt deflated when she left chemistry for the parking lot. Calling her father, she told him she was too old, had too many kids and would never be able to grasp the material.

“Just finish one class and see,” he told her.

She took his advice, earned an A, signed up for more classes and then a semester full. Oliver graduated with honors in 2010, connecting with several professors along the way, especially Frank Walton, program head for funeral services, and assistant professor Kim Jones.

“The whole school was a great experience because I never felt out of place,” she said. “I never felt like I didn’t belong. I loved restorative art; microbiology was great, and I loved Frank’s funeral management class.”

Blogging about the experience was so cathartic that Oliver wrote her own book, essentially a how-to guide to prepare for a time most of us are unprepared for. Topics include “How to write a good obituary,” “Buying a cemetery plot” and “What not to say to the bereaved.” Oliver uses humor to make the sensitive topics more palatable, sharing anecdotes from her own life, including hilarious details about a poodle puppy devouring much of her living room chairs in the chapter titled “No Change for a Year.” She writes: “Puppies, like facelifts and new boyfriends, can wait – at least for a year. And maybe even two.”

A mother to daughters Jacquie, 21, Madison, 19, and Aven, 18, Oliver is grateful for all that TCC gave her during her transition from the most difficult time in her life.

“I was really impressed with the school,” she said. “I was impressed with how they directed me and supported me in every aspect for the two years I was there. All three of my girls have completed their college freshman English at TCC. There are so many resources there, and I took advantage of many.”

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