Dick Tips, a man who literally grew up in the funeral business, knows that death care is a subject most people are reluctant to discuss. Visiting with Dick, who operates the largest privately owned funeral home and cemetery company in the US, it becomes apparent that his passion and commitment are not focused on the dead, but rather on the living.
His full name is Robert Dixon Tips. Everyone who knows him calls him “Dick,” and he’s a man who has literally grown up in the funeral business. He knows better than most that death care is a subject many people are reluctant to discuss. But visiting with this man, who operates the largest privately owned funeral home and cemetery company in the United States, it becomes apparent that his passion and commitment are not focused on the dead, but rather on the living.
“Mission Park has been my family’s calling for over 100 years,” says Tips, Chairman and CEO of Mission Park Funeral Chapels and Cemeteries. “My great-grandfather, grandmother and father taught me that when someone dies the person left behind struggles through the worst day of their life, trying to determine what their loved one would have wanted.”
“Our goal is to help people through these critical times, and assist with the decisions that in many cases have been postponed to the end of life. That’s why I place so much emphasis on planning your funeral in advance. No one intentionally wants to burden his or her loved ones with these decisions at the time of their own death. I always ask the same questions, ‘Have you made your final plans? Will your family have the money to cover the expenses of your funeral?’ Mission Park is here to help make sure the answer to both important questions is, ‘yes.’
“It’s my responsibility as well as all the caring people I work with to help families avoid the worst shopping day of their lives. One of the most thoughtful ways anyone can express their love for their family is to make his or her arrangements in advance. When your specific wishes are pre-planned, you and your family can avoid hasty decisions and financial pressures while they’re grieving,” Dick says.
“Having personally called on him in some of the most trying times of my life, Dick has always been there for me and my family,” says Vicki Buffolino, a well-known TV anchor at CBS affiliate KENS-TV. “He has been in the business of helping others for many many years and it shows,” she said. “He shows the ultimate respect and care for the people who are oftentimes suffering and looking for guidance.”
Veteran TV sports anchor Greg Simmons of ABC affiliate KSAT-TV says he’s been fortunate to witness and benefit from Dick’s generosity. Mission Park handled the funeral services for Simmons’ parents, who passed away in the 1990s. “Each time he assisted my family in getting through a very rough time in our lives,” he recalled.
“Recently, a friend of mine went through a tragedy in her life. Her son was murdered. She had no insurance for him and was faced with mounting bills including funeral costs. One call to Dick and he was extremely understanding and worked with the family to not only get them through the process but to assist them financially.”
“That’s just the kind of person he is,” Simmons said. “We are lucky to have Dick in our community.”
While San Antonio’s landmark family funeral company is more than a century old, Mission Park has grown most dramatically in the past quarter century thanks to Dick’s emphasis on pre-planning and his vision fordevelopment, expansion and integration of added services into Mission Park.
It’s interesting to note that Dick’s greatgrandfather, Will Harry Chambers, an architect and builder by trade, founded Mission Park in 1907. He presented the 200+ acres that now comprise the Mission Park South Cemetery to his wife as a wedding gift. The early success of Mission Park was a result of Will Chambers’ unwavering commitment to live by the Golden Rule, not only in how he treated his employees, but also the families served by the first Mission Park Cemetery.
In the early ’60’s, Dick joined his grandmother, Margaret; father, Fred; and uncle, Will, working summers and weekends at the family-owned cemeteries. “I did it all” says Dick. He swept the roadways, emptied trash containers, mowed, watered, trimmed and learned how to dig a grave for burial. Dick’s father and uncle, his mentors, always instilled in him the belief that we shape our own tomorrows by what we do today. And, with an eye toward the future, the Tips-owned cemetery properties offer a permanent, peaceful and pristine environment for families to come and visit their loved ones. Where you rest in death is just as important as where you lived in life from the standpoint of your future generations. Sensitivity to family dignity, understanding of family traditions and respect for the spiritual needs of individual families are the goals of Mission Park.
In the late 1950s, Mission Burial Park North was established on approximately 200 acres adjacent to The Dominion on Interstate 10 West as a birthday gift for Dick’s grandmother. During this same time, Lockehill Cemetery was acquired on the corner of Fredericksburg and Huebner Roads, which was once a stagecoach stop. The early 60s brought about more change in the funeral service industry in San Antonio when the first funeral home and cemetery was established at one convenient location at Mission Park South. Not surprisingly, it opened on June 25, 1965, Dick’s parents’ wedding anniversary. In 1978, Will and Fred Tips, responding to the demands of the north side, built a second funeral home on Cherry Ridge Drive at Interstate 10 and Loop 410. To continue a family tradition, the funeral home opened June 12, 1978, which is Dick’s birth-day.
In 1984, at the age of 29, Dick pur-chased the compa-ny from his dad and uncle. At that time, there were two funeral homes and three cemeteries in the Tips family business. However, it wasn’t long before Dick started to expand. He wasted no time in purchasing funeral operations throughout South Texas. A sharp downturn in the economy in the early ’80s, coupled with the growing expenses of expansion led to financial challenges. The company needed more cash to keep growing.
To raise more capital, in 1990 Dick sold 49 percent of Mission Park to Service Corporation International (SCI). Tips retained control of the business, and with his new partnership, inaugurated plans to go national, and then international with his cemeteries’ and funeral homes’ unique emphasis on taking care of people in need. Dick soon learned that working with a public company as his partner was foreign to the operating style that Mission Park was founded on. Having learned a valuable life lesson, Dick turned to a friend, Steve Dufilho and his team at Compass Bank to help him buy back the SCI interest in Mission Park. With Compass Bank’s financial backing, SCI’s Chairman Robert Waltrip, agreed to sell back its interest, which returned Dick to 100 percent ownership of Mission Park. Dick and Waltrip remain close friends today.
After several years at the helm of Mission Park, Dick became aware that families were much better off addressing the dreaded day of funeral arrangements by making those hard decisions well in advance of a time when heartache and mourning clouded good judgment. To assist our community, he established MTM Life Insurance Company to fund pre-need funeral planning efforts, to ease the financial burden that comes with an unexpected death. MTM has been so successful that it acquired Transwestern Life Insurance Co. and a substantial interest in North America Life Insurance Co. as well as Atlantic Southern Insurance Co. in Puerto Rico. Together, these companies offer life insurance, funeral service cost coverage, mortgage loans, and funeral home financing to assist in-dependently own-ed funeral homes.
Helping people through this difficult time of life is the driving force behind Mission Park’s growing areas of service. When a family has the foresight to make arrangements ahead of time, Dick’s companies will offer a supplemental benefit free of charge, which covers children, grandchildren, and even great grandchildren. And Dick continues to emphasize the message that no one should burden their loved ones with the decisions and plans that should have been made in advance.
Buckner Fanning, former pastor of Trinity Baptist Church and founder of The Buckner Fanning Christian School, has been a Tips family friend “for as long as I can remember. I feel like I’ve always known him,” says Fanning.
Having presided over more than 800 funeral services Fanning said he views Dick’s work as a ministry. “You’re really helping people through a difficult time and you never know what the circumstances may be,” Fanning said. “There is a correlation to being a pastor because you never know, but you try to help people whatever the circumstances may be. You have to be flexible and understanding. He and his staff have always been just the epitome of compassion.”
There have been speed bumps along the way for Dick in his personal life, however. In 2001, between Thanksgiving and
Christmas, his home in north San Antonio burned to the ground. The silver lining?: No one died. And as Dick says, &”Although I lost my home, I still have what is most important to me: my family, friends, freedom and faith.&”
After that loss, Dick lived in a hotel in downtown San Antonio, rediscovering the city where he was born and raised. That year the New Year’s Eve celebration was held in front of the Fairmount Hotel. Seeing that this jewel of San Antonio had fallen into disrepair was disappointing. Dick located the owners, purchased the hotel, and renovated the entire property.
What do a Hotel and a Funeral Home have in common? “They are both 24/7/365 operations, and they are both all about Customer Service,” says Dick. Those who use Mission Park have the luxury of allowing the Fairmount to be their “spare bedroom” for family and friends during life’s most difficult time. &”If you don’t have a place to receive well wishers? No problem, you have the Fairmount,&” Dick tells everyone. &”We help people coming in for a funeral with travel and lodging plans. Provide them with e-mail and phone service, connect the family to our housekeeping services and car wash. And we work with the family on the memorial folder as well as their video tribute. My home is your home, ” is Dick’s philosophy, and to help make it feel more like a home, we have Luke Tips &”Director of Pet Relations&” the Fairmount’s concierge/live in Labrador retriever who was rescued by the Tips Family.
“We handle receptions anywhere the family wants,” Dick says assuredly. “We will go to a house, hotel, to a park. The same is true of funeral services. We will go wherever the family wants. We know that funeral services need to be unique to the individual. Not everyone wants hymns. Some prefer country music, others jazz. Several times families have asked if they could have bagpipes. One woman asked that we play ‘Waltz Across Texas’ at the end of the service because she and her husband loved to dance. ”
Dick always keeps the family’s needs in mind. Dick has made private flight arrangements to get loved ones to their destination and has picked up vacationing family members by helicopter when an unexpected death has occurred.
For many, cremation is preferred to burial. Because Mission Park owns the crematory, the loved one never leaves the premises until they are inurned, or the ashes have been scattered over places of special importance, such as at sea, a favorite view overlooking a river, or laid to rest in an urn garden. “We are here to help them carry out their final wishes,” Dick says proudly. Beyond catering to unique final requests, Mission Park offers the only perpetual care cemetery for pets in all of Texas.
Established in the late 1970s, when a new highway was going to disrupt the burial place of a family’s beloved pets, the Tips family opened a pet cemetery. “Our pets become such an important part of enjoyment of life, that it is fitting that we lessen our loss by putting them to rest in a place where they will be remembered”, Dick says.
What is the secret of success of this century old business? “We never forget that our families’ needs come first and quality care and service go hand in hand. That’s something my great-grandfather established and it’s become our culture – to go above and beyond, do whatever it takes to assist our families,” says Dick.
Dick knows that a company’s strength is its people. With the team that he has built over the years, he continues his family’s calling to serve his community in the way he was taught by older generations, as well as improve that care through innovative services. “At Mission Park, it truly is our mission to care.” says Dick.