THERE ARE few more sensitive professions than that of funeral director.

You're dealing with people who are coping with the loss of loved ones, facing the sad fact that the deceased is gone from their lives forever.

At that point, they are at their most vulnerable. It takes a special person to help them through the experience. Joanne Barbara Hawkins was such a person.

As an associate in her father's business, the James L. Hawkins Funeral Home, for 35 years, Joanne "helped untold numbers of families as she guided them through the process of letting go of loved ones," her family said.

Joanne Hawkins, who was also a leader in local funeral-director organizations and a civic leader with an emphasis on youth development, died Jan. 20. She was 60 and was living in Morehead City, N.C., but had lived for years in South Philadelphia.

As a funeral director, "She always provided service with style, grace, a smile and a hug," her family said. "Even though it may have been one of several funerals she was handling, she also knew that for each family, it was their only funeral service and there was only one opportunity to do it right."

Joanne was born in Philadelphia, the second of the two children of the late James L. and Sara Wilson Hawkins. She graduated from Girls High School and went on to George Washington University, in Washington, D.C., graduating magna cum laude in 1972.

She then attended the American Academy McCallister Institute of Mortuary Service in New York. After completing her studies, she joined her father's funeral home at 17th and Federal streets, South Philadelphia.

Joanne was an active member of the Pennsylvania Keystone Funeral Directors Association, and was past president of the Quaker City Funeral Directors Association, serving three consecutive terms, even though its bylaws allowed only two terms.

She was active with Frontiers International, an African-American service organization devoted to the betterment of urban youth. She was involved with the Philadelphia Frontiers and was a founder of Carteret County Frontiers in North Carolina.

She followed in her mother's footsteps as a board member of Lincoln Day Nursery, in Philadelphia.

"Joanne believed in service to family, community, business and the arts and participated fully in what went on around her, wherever she was," her family said.

She retired in 2005 to Morehead City, where she enjoyed the ambience of the seaport community, with its beach and pleasant weather.

Joanne became a Walmart employee there, and was so popular that at her death the store closed "so that all of the employees could pay their respects and goodbyes to their friend and colleague."

"In her lifetime, Joanne touched so many. She had a commanding style, a sense of humor, a flair for dress and a love of people," her family said. "She will be greatly missed by those she loved and those who loved her."

She is survived by her husband, the Rev. Larry Harris; a son, Ernest Harris; a daughter, Sharilyn Harris; a sister, Sara H. Bachman, and six grandchildren.

Services: Were yesterday at Grace Temple Baptist Church, 1327 S. 19th St.