A former well-known name in Austin funeral service has stirred up more than just a few Texans with an open-letter many are saying is misleading. Charles Walden, a former funeral home owner, allowed his name to appear in an advertisement (disguised to look like an open-letter) placed by Houston-based funeral corporation, Service Corporation International.
The advertisement appeared in the May 26th edition of the Austin American Statesman. In the ad, Walden attempts to convince Austin readers that the local chain of Cook-Walden Funeral Home locations are the same now as they have been for the last 100 years. The advertisement has drawn sharp criticism, as many are claiming to be simply misleading. Cook-Walden originally had just one funeral home 40 years ago. It is now owned by Service Corporation International (SCI)-the largest funeral home and cemetery chain in the world.
According to the history of Cook-Walden funeral services published at its own website, in the late 1800s a funeral home was opened in downtown Austin by Samuel E. Rosengren. In 1920, Charles B. Cook purchased that business. In 1971, Charles Walden purchased Cook Funeral Home. The name was changed to Cook-Walden. Shortly thereafter, Charles Walden bought two adjacent cemeteries in the Pflugerville area. In 1985, he bought Davis Funeral Home in Georgetown, then Forest Oaks funeral and cemetery in 1992. The two funeral homes at the Pflugerville cemeteries location and on Hwy. 183 at Anderson Mill were built more recently.
In 1997, Cook-Walden sold all of its operations to SCI. The recent open letter in the Statesman claims that in 1993 the Cook-Walden chain joined the Dignity Memorial(R) network (a registered service mark of SCI). But Cook-Walden could not have joined the Dignity Memorial(R) network until 2004 because that network did not exist until then, and that network is used only by SCI-owned facilities.
Charles Walden has claimed to provide some consulting services, since the 1997 purchase by the corporation. However, most people are unclear on his exact involvement.
Another local news column and a social media website, Connecting Directors, has taken issue with the advertisement and pointed out the historical inaccuracies as well as a growing number of online forums where current and former employees of the company are expressing their opinions.