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Ross, Helene Elaine Cole (1913–2002)

Etta F. Walker Biography Entry

Helene Elaine Cole Ross, Fifth Ward businesswoman and entrepreneur, was born in Lafayette, Louisiana, on December 26, 1913, to Mr. and Mrs. Joe Cole. Her early years were spent in Beaumont, Texas, until her family moved to Houston in time for her to enter Phillis Wheatley High School. She graduated in 1932, and she served as the first female drum major at the school. She married Burnett Ross who was a graduate of Booker T. Washington High School in Houston. They had three daughters: JoAnne Burnette (deceased, 1954); and Susan Denise and Burnell Elaine, who were both adopted.

Helene Ross was a legendary figure (along with her husband) in both the Fifth Ward community of Houston and beyond. Ross Mortuary, one of the longest operating African-American-owned businesses in Houston, began in 1939 after starting out as Brooks and Ross Funeral Home in 1938. The earlier business was a partnership between herself, her husband (Burnett Ross), and B.T. Brooks. Helene and Burnett Ross were co-owners of Ross Mortuary until his death in 1984 when she became sole owner.

Mr. and Mrs. Ross were always looking for new business ventures. For some time, these ventures were managed primarily by Burnett Ross while Helene was engaged in parenting their daughters. Two such ventures were the start-up of the first African-American-owned ambulance service in Houston and the operation of a drug store near the mortuary. At the time, the ambulance service was the only emergency ambulance service in the Fifth Ward and other areas of northeast Houston. With the success and expansion of their business, they constructed a new building on the site of the original business at 3618 Lyons Avenue in 1964.

After her girls entered high school, Helene Ross returned to school where she earned her funeral director's license in 1971 while serving the many needs of her ever-growing business interest at Ross Mortuary. On May 15, 2002, she was named "Professional of the Year" by the Independent Funeral Directors Association of Texas, Inc., at the association's forty-fifth awards banquet.

Helene Ross died on September 2, 2002, in Houston and is buried at Brookside Memorial Park. Ross Mortuary continued operation under the ownership of her daughter, Burnell Ross Loche, and son-in-law, Edward Loche, assisted by their children (Edwina Loche Barnett and Edward Loche, Jr.). The business continued to be an economic catalyst for the Fifth Ward community through the employment of more than forty full-time and part-time employees, many of whom were graduates of Phillis Wheatley High School.

“Helene Elaine (Cole) Ross,” African-American News & Issues, Week of June 12–18, 2002 (, accessed March 18, 2013. Ross Mortuary, Inc. (, accessed April 22, 2013.  


  • Peoples
  • African Americans
  • Business
  • Women

Time Periods:

  • Great Depression
  • Texas Post World War II


  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Etta F. Walker, “Ross, Helene Elaine Cole,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 20, 2020,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: