In high school, Joe W. Dickens Jr.’s classmates predicted he would have the first funeral home on the moon.
Directing a funeral home was a goal of his from a young age, and Dickens Jr. achieved that dream in 1985 by opening Dickens Funeral Service, which is located in Tarboro. For nearly three decades, he worked to provide comfort to people in the community during times of great sadness.
Now, the community is mourning his death and remembering his legacy.
On Friday, Dickens Jr. passed away after a battle with cancer. He is survived by his wife, Olga, their son, Joe W. Dickens III, and their daughter, Jacqueline Dickens.
He was 60 years old.
“He has demonstrated to all how to treat mankind,” Olga Dickens said. “I know I’m going to miss him, but I know the community has embraced his memory.”
Olga Dickens said her husband was someone who cared deeply about those around him. Even as he battled cancer, Joe Dickens Jr.’s willingness to help others always was at the forefront of his mind.
He received treatment at the Leo W. Jenkins Cancer Center, where he encouraged others even while he was struggling, Olga Dickens said.
“He gave himself to others,” Olga Dickens said. “I mean really gave himself to others, and they appreciate what he did, and that’s what I’m hearing ... He gave a lot of love to everybody.”
Dickens Jr. graduated from North Carolina A&T State University in 1975 with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture education. He married Olga on May 26, 1984, and they opened Dickens Funeral Service in November 1985. Dickens Jr. also worked for the Cooperative Extension Service in Edgecombe County for approximately 30 years. He was active in the community in a number of ways, including as a former member of the Edgecombe County Board of Education, which his wife now serves on as a school board member.
His long-time friend U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-1st District, said Dickens Jr. was an extraordinary community leader and human being who dedicated his entire life to public service.
“His presence will be sorely missed, and I extend my sympathies to his family during this very difficult time,” said Butterfield, who added that Dickens served hundreds of families during their most vulnerable moments and brought comfort during times of deep sadness.
While Dickens Jr. had a big presence in the community, he also was very much a family man. He brought great comfort to those around him, including his 13-year-old daughter, Jacqueline. She recalled one time when her father comforted her on a thrill ride during a family trip to Florida.
“It was scary, but he held me and we got through it,” Jacqueline Dickens said.
Her father was a kind, loving and generous person who was always there to provide comfort, Jacqueline Dickens said. He taught her about the importance of being kind to everyone, she said.
Joe Dickens Jr.’s loved ones will remember him as someone who loved people, who embraced differences and who always was willing to help others. His legacy will live on through the many people he has affected in a positive way.
That comfort he provided to the community now is being returned to his family.
“He has finished his mission on earth, and now he’s with the Master,” Olga Dickens said. “I’m pretty sure that his legacy will live on with everybody that he has affected because I’m hearing it every day, and it gives us strength to move forward.”
Funeral services for Dickens Jr. will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at the New Morning Star Church of Christ at 225 South Glendale Ave. in Rocky Mount, with the Rev. Joseph Bryant officiating. Burial will follow in the Cedar View Cemetery in Enfield.
A viewing will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday at White’s Chapel Missionary Baptist in Speed.