The battle between Raymond Loewen and Jeremiah Joseph O’Keefe was a classic David and Goliath story: a simple man fought against a giant corporation to get what was rightfully his. After the war, Jeremiah had lived pretty much a peaceful life and would have never thought that he would need to reignite his fighting spirit to safeguard his family’s future. But here it is, his inspiring tale where a phoenix rose from the ashes. The Amazon film, The Burial, has heavily dramatized Jeremiah’s plight and added a few sections that gave it an emotional edge. However, we do feel that the overall conflict was a bit flat. It centered around a contractual dispute, and by the looks of it, it wasn’t something that would attract the audience. If we take away the atrocities committed by the Loewen Group against the black community, as portrayed in The Burial, then the film has nothing much to offer. However, when we went down the rabbit hole, the real-life case of Loewen LLC Group vs. J. O’Keefe looked much more interesting to us, and therefore we would like to shed some light on that and bring out the true intentions of the giant corporation.
What happened in reality?
According to the reports, the Canadian businessman, Raymond Loewen, wanted to expand his father’s empire. The company already owned a lot of funeral homes and insurance companies in Canada and the United States, but Loewen wanted to double those numbers. He set out on a mission to curb ground-level competition through cheap tactics, because of which vendors in small communities failed to survive the competition against the Giant Corporation. In short, Loewen created a monopoly in the non-competitive markets so that he could exploit the potential clients in any manner he wanted, which we have also seen in The Burial through various testimonies from the Black Church Community.
In Jeremiah’s case, the Loewen group had taken over a funeral home named Wright & Furguson, which had a contractual agreement with Jeremiah’s insurance company, Gulf National, to sell funeral insurance to them. However, after Loewen took over the company, he refused to renew the contract with Jeremiah and instead decided to sell the insurance through one of his other companies, which was in direct competition with Jeremiah’s firm, thereby breaching the contract further. The dispute was later settled when Loewen proposed that he would purchase three funeral homes from Jeremiah and would let him run his insurance business without any further competition.
In the meantime, Jeremiah had made a financial blunder. He had loaned some money to a person who was later arrested and was unable to pay it back. Due to a lack of funds, Jeremiah was unable to maintain the minimum amount of funds required by a registered burial insurance broker in the state of Mississippi, because of which his license was suspended. He was in urgent need of money to keep his family afloat, but Loewen kept stalling the deal as he knew that Jeremiah wouldn’t be able to sustain the financial blow for long and would have to file for bankruptcy sooner or later. In that scenario, Loewen would acquire Jeremiah’s funeral home and his insurance business at a much cheaper rate, and that would be the end of it all. But Jeremiah, being a decorated war hero, didn’t back away from the fight. Instead, he decided to face the enemy head-on and filed a legal lawsuit against The Loewen Group to bring out their malpractices to the public.
Why didn’t Jeremiah take Loewen’s deal?
As seen in The Burial, Willie Gary questioned Raymond Loewen on the stand and finally brought his true face to the jury during the trial. The man had been exploiting the people of the smaller communities for years, but he never felt any remorse or regret at all. The conversation centering around his prestigious yacht became an interesting topic during the trial, symbolizing that the man was only nurturing his own greed and would go to any lengths to fulfill it. However, in real life, Loewen didn’t own that yacht, and that was probably the reason why he wasn’t able to determine its costs. The yacht was owned by one of the companies that Loewen Group had owned, and therefore, Loewen had to rent the boat to set up a meeting with Jeremiah and his lawyers so that he could intimidate the party.
When Loewen understood that his chances of winning the case in Hinds County, Mississippi, looked thin, he tried to negotiate a deal with Jeremiah outside the court. Jeremiah refused the deal, as the battle with the Loewen Group had become bigger than just money. Jeremiah and Gary wanted to reveal the truth to the world, and no amount of money would’ve have been able to stop them from fighting for truth and justice.
What Happened to Jeremiah After the Lawsuit?
The jury announced a verdict and found The Loewen Group guilty of breaching the contract. They were directed to pay 100 million dollars in compensatory damages and an additional 400 million dollars in punitive damages. However, the corporation later appealed the verdict, and the settlement offer was brought down to 175 million dollars, as suggested by the end of the film.
Jeremiah put the money to good use and opened up a charitable foundation with his wife, Annette. Through the O’Keefe Foundation, he went on to help several black communities, schools, and churches, trying to ease the damage done by the likes of Loewen. He maintained his friendship with Gary until 2016, when he finally took his last breath and died at the age of 93. All in all, Jeremiah did live an honest life and was able to safeguard his family business, which still runs strong and is in the capable hands of his future generations.
What Happens to Loewen and His Company?
The closing sequence of The Burial suggests that Raymond Loewen resigned from his father’s company because of the trial and the subsequent damage that it had caused, but this isn’t entirely true. The truth is that Loewen had taken a considerable amount of money to pave the way for his ambitions of creating a funeral home empire, but he failed to repay the debts, because of which the company had to file for bankruptcy. So, he wasn’t a very good businessman, contrary to what Mame Downes told the court. A point to note here is that Mame Downes doesn’t exist in real life, and the lawyer that was hired by the corporation was named Richard Sinkfield. The creators of The Burial changed the name and gender of the lawyer for dramatic purposes.
After Loewen bailed out of his company, the corporation was sold to Alderwoods Group. The new owners failed to manage the company as well and, therefore, handed it over to Service Corporation International. As of now, SCI is running all the funeral homes owned by the company under their own name. However, we still don’t know what really happened to Raymond Loewen, as he has pretty much been living a secluded life since the most tragic trial of his life and had to sell many of his famous properties after it. He is still alive, but his whereabouts are not available in the media.