John H. Wylie, 86: Decades-long funeral director

As a kid, John Wylie conducted funerals for neighbor's pets.

He'd give a little eulogy, then preside over a burial that befit any furry friend.

As a funeral director, he exhibited the same kind of care and attentiveness. For 53 years, the Marietta native worked at the Spring Hill chapel of H.M. Patterson & Son Funeral Home. He set a standard that others emulated, said Jimmy Saturday of Lawrenceville, a retired funeral director and friend since 1966.

"All Patterson employees were trained to be attentive to needs of our customers," said Mr. Saturday, who as a child held services for neighborhood pets, too.  "People who come in are stressed. They have lost a loved one and you are the logical person that they take it out on. You have to be able to deal with that anxiety, and we all learned how to handled it. He set the standard for us to follow."

And when it came to the particulars of a funeral service, the Army veteran who spent two years as a medical officer possessed an ironclad memory.

"His memory was sharp till the end," said Hugh Allen, a Patterson funeral director at Spring Hill. "Great fellow."

For the past 15 years, Mr. Wylie had suffered from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) . In recent years, he used supplemental oxygen.

Recently,  a neighbor found him disoriented, sitting in the back seat of his car. His vehicle had been partially pulled out of the driveway. After a two hospital stays, he was transferred to Altus House in Dunwoody. He died on Dec. 3 from complications related to COPD. He was 86.

The funeral for John H. Wylieof Atlanta will be at 11 a.m. today in the Spring Hill chapel of H.M. Patterson & Son Funeral Home, which is in charge of arrangements. He will be buried at Westview Abbey Cemetery in Atlanta.

Mr. Wylie's interest in medicine, coupled with an inherent desire to help people, drew him to the funeral industry. He joined the business right after high school, working with Mayes Ward-Dobbins Funeral Home in Marietta, said his son, John R. Wylie of Stockbridge.

In 1947, the Marietta native graduated from the Gupton-Jones School of Embalming -- now  the Gupton-Jones College of Funeral Service -- in Nashville, Tenn.  Before he became a funeral director at Patterson, he spent two years as a medical assistant stationed at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and a military hospital in Canada.

"He had an interest in helping people and an interest in the medical field," his son said. "That's why he got in the funeral business. The biggest thing with him was customer service. If families asked, he'd make suggestions based on what he would have done for himself. And his memory -- he was sharp as a tack till about two months ago. He could tell you what lot, what cemetery and what section customers were buried in."

Mr. Wylie and his late wife, Peggy Willis Wylie were married more than 60 years.  She died in March 2004.

Additional survivors include two grandchildren.