Keith Belgrove was born into the business of death.
As the story goes, his great great grandmother Mary Belgrove was born into slavery in 1827 in Barbados.
And when the slaves were freed Mary left Barbados and travelled to Trinidad.
“She operated a funeral undertaking agency at St James Street in San Fernando,” Belgrove told Guardian Media.
“Her son Joseph William Belgrove formalised the business into a haberdashery, wheelwright trade and funeral service at 86 Coffee Street, San Fernando on August 15, 1888,” he said.
“Since we have that information we took that as our formal year,” Belgrove said.
Joseph William Belgrove continued operating his business until his death in 1910.
His son Vondyke Archie Belgrove assumed the mantle of leadership.
Lionel Belgrove, one of Vondyke’s three sons, continued the business.
Lionel eventually closed the other businesses started by his grandfather Joseph and concentrated primarily on the funeral agency.
At 12-years-old Keith Belgrove joined his father in the funeral agency.
“I was born into it,” he said.
In 1972 when Keith was studying abroad and readying to take over the business he started to make waves in the industry both locally and internationally.
“You see those funeral leaflets that people use in every funeral? That was created and started by Keith Belgrove back in 1972 when I came home from business school. That was my very first innovation and I am sorry I didn’t copyright it,” he said.
Belgrove said Trinidadians who took his idea of the leaflets travelled to the United States and that is what caused its usage to spread.
“Today that is a norm there and it is a norm here. Those are one of the important things we did,” Belgrove said.
But that was not all he did, Belgrove said.
“They used to put the deceased at the bottom of the casket. I felt that didn’t support the emotional needs of the family so I redesigned the casket and literally placed the person high in the casket and that changed everything,” he said.
When Belgrove became a qualified embalmer he started to include that feature in all funerals.
“I started to embalm every client we worked with and I coined the term kissing clean,” he said.
Under Keith’s’ leadership Belgroves Funeral Home has grown.
There are now four branches of the agency; two of which house modern crematoria to facilitate the public.
Aftercare counselling was introduced coupled with total quality service.
Four subsidiary companies were created to support the Funeral agency. Casket and Funeral Supplies which constructs its own coffins and caskets, Lifetime Promotions which produces the only televised death announcement in the country: Passages, Family Legacy Company which allows the pre-financing of funeral costs thus alleviating the monetary stress a family faces at a time of such loss, and Cemetery Management Company which maintains grave sites, supplies headstones and is currently undertaking a mammoth project to introduce an ultra-modern high-tech lawn crypt burial system to the country in order to address environmental as well as aesthetic issues raised by our current system of ground burials.
Belgrove remembers when the business branched out of its San Fernando base to Tacarigua.
“I came and investigated the area. I parked on the site had lunch there and imagined this facility and lo and behold it happened,” he said.
At the Tacarigua site Belgroves has created the Orange Grove Memorial Gardens (OGMG).
This cemetery is designed with a series of underground chambers (crypts); each having a capacity for four burials and is the only of its kind in T&T, Belgrove said.
“Surrounded by opulent, tropical plants, the Orange Grove Memorial Gardens is environmentally friendly, safe, and secure with 24-hour security. A 26-foot eternal flame water fountain irradiates the sky in remembrance of your loved ones, making it a tranquil and picturesque retreat,” Belgrove stated.
“The Orange Grove Memorial Gardens guarantees the peace of mind that comes with knowing that your loved ones will rest eternally in a secured and dignified space, whilst allowing you to regularly pay tribute, relax and appreciate the garden environment,” it stated.
Belgrove said over the past 134 years the family has transformed funeral services.
One of the things he has done is founded the association of funeral directors.
Belgrove said he has been pushing for regulations for the funeral service industry in T&T.
“We cannot grow a profession out of an industry without proper regulations,” he said.
Belgrove said when he entered the industry in 1974 there were only 21 funeral homes.
Now there are 78, he said.
“Some are doing just about the most ridiculous things, no proper facilities, no proper drainage system, no proper office facility, no proper equipment yet still they are allowed to operate our association has become a toothless bulldog,” he said.
He said the association had previously partnered with the T&T Bureau of Standards and some voluntary standards were established.
“Only three or four adhere to them and we continue the battle for licensing laws,” Belgrove said.
“I met the funeral service in a great mess and in today it is in a bigger mess. We struggle for regulation and that still requires us to keep pushing,” he said.
Belgrove said the organisation will continue to innovate. He has already earmarked his children to take over the business and continue the family tradition.
“We will create. We will ensure Belgroves stands as a beacon for what funeral services should be. More innovation is coming and technology will drive those innovations,” he said.
Over the years Belgrove has participated in thousands of funeral services.
Some include names like Jean Pierre, Tubal Uriah Butler and Patrick Manning.
Belgrove thanked the population for placing their trust in the organisation.
He received the keys to the City of San Fernando, from Mayor Junia Regrello at a special function at City Hall Auditorium, San Fernando in 2018.
Henry Street in San Fernando has also been renamed Belgrove Lane.