All Hosea Knox wanted was to own his own business.
For over 33 years, Knox was the proprietor of Elmo’s Tombstone Service, which he bought from his employer Robert Williams in 1987, on the South Side of Chicago. The catchphrase coined by Williams for the Black-owned shop was, “Be 4 You Go See Elmo.”
Knox, who continued making tombstones using his old-school methods during the pandemic, died Sept. 5 from complications of an intestinal infection, his family said. He was 82.
“We thank you Father God for this man’s business, for he helped so many in the Black community in their moment of need,” the Rev. Moses Williams said as he delivered the invocation at Knox’s Sept. 13 funeral. Friends and family paid tribute to him as he was laid to rest at Mount Hope Cemetery next to his wife, Bobby, who died in 2012 of cancer and whose tombstone was started by Knox.
Leon Brown, Knox’s assistant of 12 years, remembered that day.
“He (Knox) started it, but I had to finish it. He was overwhelmed,” Brown recalled as he worked on his boss and friend’s tombstone the day after the funeral.
Knox’s daughter Tara Knox Stockdale, who now co-owns the business with her sister, Tawane Knox, watched Brown as he crafted the blue pearl granite tombstone that read, “IN GOD’S CARE – HUSBAND – FATHER ‘ELMO’S’ HOSEA L. KNOX – APR 12 1939, SEPT 5 2021 GRANDFATHER.”
With the inscription, her father’s death “becomes real again,” Stockdale said through tears as she glided her hands over the rough and smooth sections of the finished tombstone.
Tawane Knox, the youngest of the two daughters and an elementary school principal in Chicago, recalled growing up and what her father taught them by living his life.
“He was a kind and generous person, a hard worker and he never complained. He always tried to help others along without judgment.” Knox said Friday. “Just because he had polio when he was a kid, he didn’t let it limit him in life.”
Hosea Knox did ponder making his own stone, telling The Associated Press last year that he’d “have to eventually do it.”
“I might put a little thing that says, ‘Elmo’s Tombstone Service’ on the bottom,” he said.
As Brown was nearing the end of his creation, he had to pause and clean a tool.
“If Mr. Knox was here, you know what he would say?” Brown asked with a smile. “Why didn’t you clean that earlier?”