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Longtime owner of Blackburn & Ward FH sells business

STEVE WARD, left, longtime owner of Blackburn & Ward Funeral Home, has sold the Versailles business to Billy Butcher, a native of Lexington. Butcher has been in the funeral business for nearly 24 years, including the last 18 years at Kentucky Mortuary Service in Lexington. (Photo by Bob Vlach)

As an employee and then as the owner of Blackburn & Ward Funeral Home (since 1989), Steve Ward has been there when Woodford County families were grieving the loss of a loved one. These families have been a huge part of his life for the last 40 years. "My career has been my passion and my passion has been my career," said Ward, who sold Blackburn & Ward Funeral Home to Billy Butcher on Jan. 1. "I've loved what I've done. I've loved serving the people of Woodford County for 40 years." Even during the most difficult time in his life (being placed on probation for sexual misconduct in September 2012), Ward said, "The people of Woodford County who have known Steve Ward and believed in Steve Ward have been totally supportive of me and believed in me. And that I have appreciated. "If anything at all," he continued, "this business has grown since then. And it has (grown) . (because) they know who Steve Ward is." Besides owning Blackburn & Ward Funeral Home for 28 of his 40 years, Ward served as Woodford County coroner for 21 years. Those years were extremely rewarding, but Ward now wants to spend more time with his wife, son, grandson and mother. The sudden, unexpected death of his older brother last year was "a wakeup call for me," he said. Ward, who will celebrate his 63rd birthday next month, plans to remain involved at Blackburn & Ward when he's not out of town traveling with his wife of 41 years, Carol. 'The right fit' Becoming the owner of Blackburn & Ward Funeral Home gives Billy Butcher an opportunity to continue a tradition of being there for mourning families, which was embraced by Steve Ward and his predecessor, Leslie Blackburn. "He's (Butcher) the right fit to continue the traditions that I had developed," said Ward. He said Butcher's demeanor and personality will allow him to continue to run the business as he did. "I think that Blackburn & Ward will be well cared-for," said Ward. "In fact, they may end up doing a heck of a better job than I've done - no kidding." By not changing the name Blackburn & Ward, Butcher wants families in the community to understand that new ownership does not signify a shift away from traditions. "We know we have big shoes to fill. There's no doubt about that. And we know that," said Butcher. He'll rely on general manager Leigh Ann Lewis, and longtime Blackburn & Ward staffers Penny Baker and Gary Finnell for their experience as he embarks on this next chapter in his career. Both Lewis and Baker are licensed funeral directors, a profession historically, but no longer, dominated by men. When Butcher retires in 30 years, he hopes people in the community will tell his successor: "Boy, you have big shoes to fill." The origins of Butcher's interest in becoming a funeral director started taking shape at a young age. He grew up in south Lexington, but often traveled with his family to Bath County so they could attend the funerals of relatives. The director of Richardson Funeral Home (in his father's native Bath County) always took time to talk to him and answer his questions. Butcher spent the summer after he graduated from Lafayette High School working for Randolph Richardson. He also remembers playing with his mentor's granddaughter, who now owns and operates Richardson Funeral Home. She's among his many friends in the funeral home business. Butcher said he has been in the funeral business for nearly 24 years, including the last 18 years at Kentucky Mortuary Service in Lexington. He graduated from Mid-America College of Funeral Service in Jeffersonville, Ind. Butcher has an 11-year-old daughter, Caitlyn, and has been dating Lewis for "quite some time." She has two daughters, Ellie and Annabelle.

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