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Official record reveals cause of death of Thomas Shepherd

The official cause of the death of Thomas R. “Tom” Shepherd would likely come as no surprise to friends and family members who watched from afar as the respected family business fell into ruin.

Shepherd died of “major depression” attributable to “external factors,” his physician, Dr. James Caserio, wrote on Jan. 3.

Shepherd died at age 80 on New Year’s Eve at Pardee UNC Health Care, the death certificate said. Jackson Funeral Service transported the body to Shepherd Memorial Park, the family-owned cemetery Tom’s father founded in 1954. The document did not specify whether Shepherd was cremated or buried.

Shepherd had been in failing physical health during the period from November 2018 through early last month when state regulators investigated many complaints and found numerous violations of funeral service practices at the funeral home at 125 S. Church St. and at the cemetery on Asheville Highway. The probe ended with a final order from the Board of Funeral Service on Dec. 8 revoking the funeral home’s license. At the same time, Shepherd lacked the support of friends and family, those close to him said, because his wife, Melody, had kept him isolated.

Asked whether he had seen the cause of death, Shepherd’s son, William, said, “No, but makes sense to me.”

“I would assume the decline of the business” was a factor, added William, who along with his sister, Trisha, had been estranged from Tom Shepherd for many years. “I’m sure part of his depression would be contributed to not being able, allowed to rectify the relationship with his children.”

Born May 5, 1941, to William Merrill “Billy” Shepherd and Ida Gautier Shepherd, Tom Shepherd was the third generation owner and operator of Thos. Shepherd & Son Funeral Directors, which originated in 1903. A graduate of UNC at Chapel Hill, Shepherd served in the U.S. Army National Guard and was active in his hometown in civic life. He became managing funeral director of the funeral home in 1965 upon his father’s death. Tom Shepherd had been active in civic life for many years, leading philanthropic efforts for the United Way, Rotary Club of Hendersonville and Flat Rock Playhouse Youth Theatre, hosting fundraisers for Hendersonville Rescue Mission and Children and Family Resource Center and serving as a leader of the Shrine Club, Henderson County Chamber of Commerce and Park Ridge Foundation Board and as President of the Community Foundation of Henderson County Board. In 2014, he received the Richard C. and Vina L. Sauer Charitable Leadership Award, the Community Foundation’s highest honor.