Alston Joynes Godwin, 101, Pioneer Female Undertaker

January 19, 2013

Alston Joynes Godwin, 101, died at her Cape Charles residence Wednesday, January 16.

The family will receive friends at a viewing 5-7 p.m. Wednesday, January 23, at First Baptist Church, Cape Charles. The funeral service will be 12 noon Thursday, January 24, at the church.

She is survived by a son, Cape Charles Town Council member Thomas George Godwin, and his wife Juanita; a daughter, Jennie Marie King; three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Mrs. Godwin was one of Cape Charles’ longest living residents. She was one of the oldest living licensed funeral directors in the state of Virginia, and was considered by many as a trailblazer for women in the funeral business.

Born in 1911 in the small community of Fairview on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, her early days were spent commuting from her family’s farm to school via horse and buggy. As a teenager, she attended boarding school at Tidewater Institute and Nursing College at Dixie Hospital in Hampton.

At the age of 16, she began a mortuary apprenticeship at Gray’s Funeral Home, under the direction of her aunt and uncle, Jennie and Mills Gray. She learned the art and science of funeral directing and contributed to the business in numerous capacities before attaining a Virginia Funeral Director’s license in 1944.

Upon the passing of her aunt, Godwin became owner and operator of Gray’s Funeral Home, and built the current location near her home in Cape Charles.


In addition to overseeing the funeral business, she partnered with her husband, the late Thomas L. Godwin, to manufacture burial vaults. Together, they expanded the business to serve funeral homes throughout the area.

In later years, Godwin opened Gray’s Funeral Home Floral Shop and supplied flowers for funerals, as well as special events including wedding, church events and galas.

Throughout her career, Godwin was very active in parent teacher organizations; Prince Hall Affiliation of the Eastern Star, Lee Chapter #13; United Order of Tents, local chapter Shiloh Tent #116.

She was a member of First Baptist Church for more than 70 years and was ordained as the church’s first female Deacon.

In March 2011, she renewed her Virginia Funeral Director’s license at the age of 99.

In 2012, she was recognized as a Living Legend by the 100 Black Women in Funeral Service.



3 Responses to “Alston Joynes Godwin, 101, Pioneer Female Undertaker”

  1. Greta Ellliott-Meredith on January 25th, 2013 2:02 pm

    With all that she was in this life and had accomplished, I remember Ms. Allison as a wonderful and kind person. She never lost the common touch. I often remember being picked up by her with my mother while walking from downtown, as we called it as children. We witnessed that beautiful smile and wonderful conversation over and over again. Along with her visting her friend and fellow parishioner, my grandmother “Mama Ruth,” the demeanor was always the same. She understood the importance of making everyone feel special. She provided a service to community that has contributed so much to my life. She taught her children to do the same. Her grandson Keith was one of my most treasured and dearest friends; being connected to her would explain why. I think I understand even more as they both have now transitioned the blessing that we had. Mr. Godwin, her son, is such a treasure to the community and I will continue pray for his family’s strength during this time. The family lived and lives their faith and trust in God.


  2. Melvin W. Williams, Jr. CWO USCG(Ret) on March 18th, 2013 10:47 pm

    To the members of the Gray and Godwin family, please allow me to express my condolence to all of you in the passing of this wonderful lady. I was introduced to Mrs. Godwin at an early age by my grandmother, “Miss Ellen,” while growing up in Cape Charles. From my early job as a paper boy, through the Baptist Church, the school system, and an early part of my military career, I’ve known this great lady for her smile and words of encouragement. I’ve just been made aware of this publication,, and articles that it focuses on. Although late, I still want the Godwin family to know how deeply saddened I am by their loss. My mom would have wanted me to do this. May God continue to comfort all of you in this loss.
    In memory of my mom, Mrs. Thelma B. Williams,
    Her son, Melvin Jr.

  3. Wanda Beckett on June 11th, 2015 4:14 am

    Mr. & Mrs. Thomas Godwin & family, my sincere condolences for the loss of your beloved mother. I would have been delighted to meet her. She’s now God’s beautiful Angel and may she forever rest in her Heavenly, Eternal home. I love you all so much and I’m so blessed to have you in my life now.