Gwen Mooney knew what her career path was going to be when she was only 17. Several people in her life had passed away — a grandfather and two uncles as well as a close friend who committed suicide. While Gwen and her family were spending countless hours in funeral homes, she began to notice the homes were primarily run by men, plus, the rooms looked rather dated. Gwen already had a love for interior design and restoration, so she pondered how she would renovate these old-fashioned funeral homes to make them more welcoming. She also began thinking about what kind of impact she could have upon families if she were a funeral director. Gwen reached these goals by studying mortuary science in college, and 27 years later, she now holds the position of President and CEO of Cave Hill Cemetery, the resting place of notables such as boxer Muhammad Ali, KFC founder Colonel Harland Sanders, and Louisville founder George Rogers Clark. This year she was honored with being named a Kentucky Colonel. Let’s meet this week’s FACE of Louisville, Gwen Mooney.
How did your journey into mortuary science begin?
I was sitting in the library one evening, and I happened to be in the college section. I began noticing the college manuals on the shelves and saw one for the Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science. I got up, pulled it out, and I went through the book cover to cover. I began considering other schools, but Cincinnati really had the best program. Some schools only offer an associate’s degree where you can become a funeral director, but you can’t do anything in terms of embalming or preparation of the deceased body. So when I went to the Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science, I was able to get my bachelor’s degree. I’m a licensed funeral director and embalmer in Ohio and Kentucky.
What was it like in your mortuary science classes, specifically working with cadavers?
It was a little uncomfortable since I was not in familiar territory. There were students who’d grown up in funeral homes and had been around the embalming rooms and helping their parents. It was a reality shock to all of a sudden be in an embalming lab where there were deceased people and working on them. As I learned and got into it, I began enjoying it.