At 22, Adolphous G. Bullock, who was the grandson of a Virginia slave, was among those who stormed the beaches of Normandy, France, on D-day, fighting for the future of the free world while living under segregation back home.
Mr. Bullock, who with his wife, Toni, owned the Bullock Funeral Homes in Boston for 40 years, rarely spoke about his military service other than to acknowledge he went to war, his family said.
He would much rather reminisce about more pleasant things, such as his days singing tenor with a men’s quartet or his childhood in Norfolk, Va., hunting for crabs along the shore with a German shepherd named Trixie.
But in the last years of his life, his daughter found a well-worn wallet that he had carried for decades. Inside that leather time capsule was a tattered honorable discharge card that bore notations about the medals Sergeant Bullock was awarded for his service during the second wave of the June 6, 1944, amphibious assault.
“He started opening up to me in bits and pieces. I was flabbergasted,” said his daughter, Dr. Kim A. Bullock, a physician in Washington.
Mr. Bullock, who had been a railroad porter before launching the Bullock Funeral Homes, died April 17 in Boston Medical Center after a brief illness. He was 92 and had lived in Dorchester.
His wife, the former Toni Harris, died in 2011 at 88. They were married 65 years and were known as mentors to young minorities venturing into the business world.
“He was an institution within the community. He and his wife were very generous with their time and resources,” said Boston City Councilor Charles Yancey.
“Adolphous was a very dignified individual. He was looked up to by virtually everyone and he will be sorely missed,” Yancey added. “Most of all, Adolphous leaves us with very positive memories of an individual who had a great deal of self-respect and was committed to the community and the city of Boston.”
Born in 1922 in Norfolk, Va., Adolphous George Bullock was a son of Oscar Bullock, a Methodist minister, and the former Mattie Burnett. One of 13 children, Mr. Bullock was the last surviving sibling.
The Bullocks trace their family tree to Colonial America. Mr. Bullock’s great-grandfather was a slave in Virginia and his grandfather Ottoway was born into slavery, according to family research.
Mr. Bullock joined the Army in 1943. He returned to Virginia after World War II and married his sweetheart, Lessie Maye Harris, who was known as Toni and had served in the Negro Women’s Army Corps as a radio operator.
“He cherished the ground she walked on,” said his nephew Jack Bullock Jr., who said his uncle was a key role model in his own life.
“He was always positive, always in good spirits,” said Jack, who worked at the Bullock Funeral Homes as a young man. “He said, ‘Save your money and you can get anything you want.’ He was a great man. I loved him dearly.”
It was Mrs. Bullock’s dream of becoming a funeral director that prompted the couple to leave Virginia for Boston after World War II. She graduated in 1946 from the New England Institute, where she studied embalming and anatomy.
Mr. Bullock worked as a porter on the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad and became a dining car head waiter, according to his family. He later received a mortician’s license.
In the 1950s, the Bullocks bought a Georgian Revival mansion overlooking Dorchester Bay and opened their first funeral parlor in what was known as the Fottler House. They lived there and opened a second funeral home in Mattapan in 1973. They closed the business in 1999.
Their daughter’s education was a key focus of their lives. Kim graduated from Yale University and the University of Michigan Medical School.
“His whole face would light up when he talked about Kim,” said his cousin Beachie Russell, who lives in Cambridge. “He felt so proud and satisfied about Kim.”
During a recent trip to the emergency room for heart problems, Mr. Bullock hailed his daughter from his bed with a loud greeting, “Kim! Dr. Kim Bullock, my daughter!”
“Everybody just turned around and looked,” she recalled fondly. “He was tough, but he had a lot of soft spots. He wanted to make sure I got my education.”
A golfer, Mr. Bullock was a longtime promoter of the game in the African-American community and received many golfing awards during his life, his family said. He advocated for equal opportunities for black caddies and integration of golf courses, and was a longtime member of the National Negro Golf Association.
Russell, who worked in the business office of Bullock Funeral Homes in the 1970s, said Mr. Bullock was an understanding boss who was patient when his employees made mistakes.
“I thought he would get angry and show his temper, but he didn’t,” Russell said. “He had a genuine feeling for me as I did for him. We recognized our faith and tradition. We believed family should pull together.”
A service has been held for Mr. Bullock, whose daughter was his only immediate survivor.
Russell recalled that he was just a boy in Virginia when Mr. Bullock went off to serve in the war, and that his cousin never brought up his military service after he returned.
“I guess it was too painful,” Russell said. “He’d rather talk about anything else. So many of the people he knew didn’t come home.’’ He added that “the only way to get through it was trust in God. You believe, ‘I will go on, and I will make a difference,’ and that’s what he did by giving his best to America and his family.”
Mr. Bullock was buried with full military honors in Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain.
J.M. Lawrence can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.