TAMPA — Customers who entered Blount and Curry Funeral Home's Carrollwood office often had little to look forward to in the coming days, and many tasks.
Once they walked through the door, a small woman with bright brown eyes and a Southern accent greeted them warmly.
If need be, receptionist Nancy Jacey took families to an "arrangement room," offered them coffee or water and found a funeral director.
She was good at it, as if she had been working with grieving families her whole life. Ms. Jacey started working at the funeral home five years ago after a divorce, a cancer diagnosis and a move.
Reaching out to others made her feel better.
"She was very easy with people, very kind and understanding and patient," said Barbara Denmark, a funeral attendant at Blount and Curry. "She just had a knack for making friends."
Ms. Jacey came to Tampa from Richmond, Va., to start fresh, after a long marriage to a physician had ended. She had a way of treating the people she met as if it were their 40th conversation rather than the first.
Before long, she had struck up cordial relationships with the postman and the woman at a Subway restaurant.
"She was a motormouth; she couldn't meet a stranger," said daughter Stephanie Hall, 28. "I don't care if you were a doctor or a bum on the street. You felt comfortable talking to her."
The Rev. Raymond Spence, who knew her for 45 years through Second Baptist Church in Richmond, described Ms. Jacey as a "turbocharged" caregiver who "never wanted someone around her not to be looked after."
A Virginia native, Ms. Jacey attended Medical College of Virginia School of Nursing, where she earned certification as a licensed practical nurse.
"When Nancy's marriage came apart, she took it real, real hard," said Spence. "It was a terrible time. But she kind of got herself together after that."
Cancer of the colon and bile ducts reduced her work days at Blount and Curry. Even so, Hall said, "She never lost hope. She was never angry at God."
Hospice workers became her new best friends. Some of them opened up to her about their own problems. Ms. Jacey said she would pray for them.
Eventually, she refused further treatments.
Ms. Jacey died Oct. 29. She was 65. At her request, mourners gave money they might have spent on flowers to Suncoast Hospice.
The letter carrier came to her memorial service Nov. 6 at Blount and Curry. So did the restaurant worker from Subway.
A large crowd turned out for another service in Richmond.
"I guess 150 to 175 people came out on a cold, blowy day to her funeral," said Spence. "I looked out at the crowd, and there were people from all walks of life there."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.