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About the Authors

DUANE HILLS was born in Upstate New York, the same area in which he began his 44-year career following his graduation from Simmons School of Mortuary Science in 1978. A lifelong lover of American History, Duane considers it fate he would find himself named as President of Joseph Gawler’s Sons Funeral Home in Washington, DC – the funeral home of the Presidents, and has served in this role for a decade.

After moving to the District, Gawler’s president found opportunities to pursue his passion for history. He currently is an active member of The Lincoln Group of the District of Columbia and has also found a treasure trove of information at The DC History Center, where he also is a member.

Professionally, he has been active is various study groups and has served as a licensed member of the DC Funeral Board for the past five years.

In his first book, “One Block West of The White House,” Duane merges his love of American History and his passion for funeral service by way of immersive story telling beginning in 1850 in Washington City, as it was known in that era.

Duane lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, with his husband Andrew and their Alaskan Malamute, Tobihanna.

ALICE ADAMS, a fourth-generation Texan, adopted her father’s passion for history as a child and later as a graduate student at The University of Texas. She has spent the past two decades advocating for, and documenting, the often-neglected histories of heritage funeral homes and funeral directors, who made significant contributions to their respective communities. She is an active member of The Texas State Historical Society.

Her career includes teaching marketing and, later, business writing at The University of St. Thomas in Houston. She has co-authored or ghosted a number of books on business topics. “Safety: 24/7” on safety in the workplace, has been translated into nine languages, selling 250,000 copies.

An award-winning journalist, Alice has been a columnist for The Houston Chronicle for the past 20 years, The Jewish Herald-Voice in Houston and is a regular contributor to several newspapers and a number of funeral service trade publications.

Alice lives in Dripping Springs, Texas, with her son Jeff and his wife Kris and their family, including the world’s best Black Lab, Cass, and two very quirky, independent rescue cats, Naula and Ron-Duh!

Inspiration behind “One Block West of the White House”

When the authors began writing “One Block West of the White House: Joseph Gawler’s Sons – Undertaker To The Presidents,” they had three goals in mind:

(1) to capture the rapidly disappearing history of the generations of Joseph Gawler’s family who served the residents of Washington, D.C., the leaders of our military and all who have served our country  — from presidents, first ladies and cabinet members to members of congress, leaders of federal agencies and the area’s businessmen and women, religious leaders, artists, writers and media personalities, among others.

(2) The second goal was to recognize the behind-the-scenes role of funeral directors and their essential expertise in arranging appropriate tributes, from beloved family members, our nation’s fallen members of the military services to the final rites and dispositions of our nation’s leadership.

(3) Finally, we were also focused on illustrating how funeral services and burials become part of the rich, historic tapestry of the story of our country. A few generations ago, it was rare to find anyone who didn’t remember exactly where they were, what they were doing (even what they were wearing) the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated and the days of mourning and the state funeral that followed, led by a team from Gawler’s

This close kinship, between the services the Gawler’s firm arranged and the history of our country began almost as a young Joseph Gawler opened his woodworking shop, making coffins as a sideline, in 1850. Finding the greater demand for his coffins, the transport of these coffins from the home to the cemetery and, later, embalming, Gawler soon turned his attention exclusively to funeral service.

These services continued through the next four generations of his family and, when Gawler’s became one of the leading heritage firms of Service Corporation International, the historically high level of public expectations for their services continued and remains so today.

Most of the photographs of this book are from the archives and files of the firm and have not been seen until now. Additionally, much of the historic details have been gleaned from the archives saved by the generations of Gawler’s and the presidents who have been honored to lead this vaunted funeral firm.

The research performed by the authors required more than two years, and many of the anecdotes and quotes were discovered during the course of this research.

Above all, “One Block West of the White House,” should prove a good read, written in a way where the book can be put down after reading and then, as schedules allow, the book can be resumed without having to reread the previous pages.

Enjoy this rare and unusual book, the history and the gems of information you’ll discover among its pages.