My father, John, started the business in Thornhill in 1961, quickly gaining a reputation for quality joinery work. He had served his apprenticeship with Forrester & Montgomery in Thornhill who were joiners and undertakers. This was a common combination in those days. He was soon asked to take on undertaking services and from then the business grew with clients across Perthshire, Stirlingshire and beyond.
When I joined the business, my father insisted that I did a “proper” apprenticeship. At first this did not go down too well with me, but I did it and went on as many City & Guilds training courses as possible becoming the first joiner from Falkirk Technical College to gain the Licentiateship of The City & Guilds of London Institute in construction. With hindsight it was the right thing to do!
It isn’t always easy working with and restoring older buildings but it is interesting and can be hugely rewarding. When the project is finished and you stand back and see something restored to how it once was, or how a modern conversion or extension can fit in with older surroundings, it gives a great sense of satisfaction seeing a job well done.
After two or three years it was “suggested” to me that it was time to get involved in the funeral side of the business which, at around 20 years of age, I knew little about. I soon learnt that it is an extremely sensitive and emotional time for everyone involved and that discretion is vital.
As my father got nearer retirement I became more and more involved in the running of the business and took it over completely nearly 30 years ago. I have seen many changes since then.
On the joinery side, more and more products are bought in with fewer bespoke items being made in the workshop and only a fraction of doors and windows being made in timber. Maintenance free uPVC and aluminium are now the preferred choice of many but, whatever material I am asked for, it keeps me busy whether it is a small repair or a large extension to existing premises.
On the funeral side there are now fewer religious services as, with falling church attendance, more are opting for something secular. There has also been a huge change in funeral vehicles. In the past, converted estate cars and vans were the norm but nowadays we see plush purpose built hearses and limousines often costing well into six figures each. Dress code is another change, with coloured clothing rather than black becoming much more common now.
I am often asked about the role of a funeral director.
Well, for a start, it is a commitment. I am on call 24/7. My phone is rarely switched off, even on holiday. My role involves removing the deceased to the chapel of rest, meeting the family to discuss their wishes for the funeral service, choosing a coffin, whether a burial or cremation is preferred and whether it is to be a religious or secular service. I also arrange printing of orders of service, floral tributes, newspaper obituary notices, catering following the service and supply of gravestones. I liaise with cemetery and crematoria authorities, the doctors who provide the death certificate and the clergy and celebrants for all types of services. For the content of the service there are a few rules but also many options which I try to accommodate without the service losing its dignity. Whilst dealing with everything there is, of course, legalities to be obeyed, especially the registration of the death and its circumstances. Sometimes the Police and Procurator Fiscal are involved. There is no compromise with them. Anything suspicious or a sudden death has to be investigated fully. This can take time. There are many things to think about when organising a funeral but I always try to treat everyone with the respect that they deserve.
Growing up and living in the Thornhill and Kippen areas all my life I know many of the families I meet very well. To me, this is more than a business, it is a service to our communities.