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Charles W. Dee Sr., 3rd generation to run Concord funeral home

A native of Concord, Mr. Dee had a passionate love and knowledge of the history of the town, his daughter said.

A native of Concord, Mr. Dee had a passionate love and knowledge of the history of the town, his daughter said.

Except for when he served in the US Army Air Corps during World War II, Charles W. Dee Sr. never lived away from his beloved Concord. He was born and grew up in town, carried on his family’s funeral business there, and was well-versed in Concord’s history.

As a boy, he joined other children in giving tourists summer tours of Concord’s historic Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, the burial ground of many memorable writers.

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“They would wait by the first gate and say: ‘Tours of the famous graves of Emerson, Alcott, Hawthorne, and Thoreau, 25 cents,’ ” said his daughter Susan Dee Johnson of Concord. “If the tourists’ cars slowed down, he would jump on the running board and guide them to the famous graves, telling them everything he knew about each person.”

Years later, in an interview conducted in 1982 by Renee Garrelick for the Concord Oral History Program, Mr. Dee described Sleepy Hollow as “America’s Westminster Abbey, there are so many world-famous people buried there.”

An avid reader of history books, Mr. Dee had a “passionate love and knowledge of the history of Concord, its old tales, and its citizens,” said his daughter Sherry Dee Mobley of Pepperell.

Mr. Dee, who was the third generation of his family to serve as a funeral director at Concord’s Dee Funeral Home, where he worked for 64 years, died of heart disease July 29 in his Concord home. He was 88.

“We’re like the old country doctors,” Mr. Dee told the Globe in 1982. “We go to houses in the wee hours, whenever we’re called.”

After counseling the family, he said, they “find out what they’d like to do as a memorial.”

“We get great satisfaction helping people through their most trying times,” he added.

Mr. Dee and his wife, Nancy, were presented with Concord’s Honored Citizen award “in recognition of their long history of involvement with town committees and the numerous nonprofit and service organizations in Concord,” said Town Manager Christopher Whelan. “The two of them were funny, fun-loving, and good-natured. Charlie was the town’s veterans’ agent for 12 years and the veterans’ graves officer for more than 30 years, ensuring that Concord’s veterans received their due respect while living and after death.”

Mr. Dee, Whelan added, “always had a smile, even in the most difficult of circumstances. His love of Concord and caring for its residents are key to why he and Nancy were chosen to be Honored Citizens and why they will both be sadly missed.”

As part of his veterans’ duties, Mr. Dee inaugurated the practice of placing on Revolutionary War graves in Concord’s cemeteries a 13-star US flag, like the ones used in that era.

For many years, he also was the town’s official photographer, shooting town parades, major storms, and other events.

In the oral history interview, Mr.Dee said his great-grandfather Joseph Dee moved to Concord “from a farming community in Waterford County, Ireland, in 1860.”

Joseph Dee walked “from Charleston to Lincoln and got a job at Brooks Farm,” Mr. Dee said, and then “combined farming with being a gravedigger at Sleepy Hollow cemetery. When my grandfather later went to work for Willard T. Farrar, the local burial agent, he accepted his offer to go into the business.”

Mr. Dee said his family’s funeral home records “start in 1868 when Mr. Farrar was appointed as burial agent and for a time the town records and the Dee Funeral Home records were one and the same.” Mr. Dee’s children are the fourth generation to run the business.

“Charlie was always a big hero to me,” said his younger brother, Norman of Concord, who became a teacher. As children, the brothers placed flags and wreaths on graves on Memorial Day.

Mr. Dee was born in 1923 on Nov. 11, which years later would be designated Veterans Day.

When he was a boy, he “began a lifelong interest in Concord’s Native American history by finding and preserving numerous Indian arrowheads and artifacts, many of which were found while he was working on his grandfather’s Peter Spring Farm in Concord,” said his son Charles Jr. of Concord.

Mr. Dee graduated from Concord High School, where he was cocaptain of the varsity track team and the 1942 varsity football team, on which he was known as “Moe Dee” because he “mowed them down in the field,” his daughter Susan said.

In the Army Air Corps, Mr. Dee was a sergeant and an instrument specialist. Assigned to Operation Carpetbagger, he and others flew clandestine night missions to drop munitions and supplies to resistance forces in Nazi-occupied Europe.

The French government subsequently awarded a Croix de Guerre to members of the unit.

After the war, he used the GI Bill to enroll at New England Institute in Boston, where he studied to be a funeral director and graduated in 1948. Then he joined his father and grandfather at what was then Joseph Dee and Son Funeral Home in Concord.

In 1947, he married Nancy I. Sealey, a surgical operating room secretary.

At the funeral home, she helped by writing obituaries and death notices, and comforting families. Mrs. Dee died in 2004.

In addition to his daughters, son, and brother, Mr. Dee leaves a sister, Martha Pagano of Maynard; five grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

A funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. Friday in Holy Family Parish in Concord. Burial will be in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. Concord’s town flag will fly at half-staff in his honor.

“My father was an extremely humble man,” his daughter Susan said.

She added that he “was well-suited to his profession. He always listened to other people first and foremost, and was a kind and gentle person.”

In the 1982 Globe interview, Mr. Dee said there was “no mystery to the funeral business. The mystery is with death, and we leave that up to the religious people.”

Gloria Negri can be reached at
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