The funeral industry

It wasn’t that many years ago that almost every industry in the country was dominated by men, and that was certainly the case for the funeral industry. Thank goodness it’s changed. In my 65 years in the funeral industry, I’ve not only witnessed a change in the role of women, but I’m very proud to have played a small part in making it happen. There’s still some way to go but, on the whole, the funeral industry is far more equal than it’s ever been.

As we mark International Women’s Day on 8th March, I want to reflect on a few of the things that helped change our industry.

From the beginning of our company

The Hunnaball Family Funeral Group began in 1983 when, together with my wife Melanie, I purchased Geo Paskell Funeral Directors in Wix. Geo Paskell was a traditional family funeral director founded in 1837 but, from the very beginning, Melanie was fully involved in the business. At first, she drove our fleet of hire cars and limousines on weddings and funerals before stepping up to conduct at funerals when necessary. No one expected to see a lady funeral director, but she was exceptionally well-received and brought a new dimension to the role.

By the time we opened the first Colchester branches of Hunnaball Funeral Service, Melanie was regularly conducting funerals, and often taking on the role of celebrant. She also ran two floristry shops, in Manningtree and Crouch Street, Colchester.

As one of the pioneering women in the funeral industry, Melanie worked exceptionally hard, fulfilling nearly every role as needed, even standing in as my embalming assistant on a number of occasions. She was also passionate about encouraging other women to take a full and active role in the industry.  And I was fully behind her.

In many ways, we continue to be a traditional family funeral director, but from day one we held firmly to the idea that when tradition gets in the way of equality, tradition needs to change.

Ground breaking

In the 1980s it became increasingly common for women to work in the day-to-day life of funeral director. However, Melanie took it a step further when she passed her exams to become one of the first qualified female funeral directors in the country. She conducted funerals with increasing regularity, and it became quite normal for families to ask specifically for a woman funeral director. In fact, some clients came to us because we were one of the few companies to have a woman funeral director.

As a committed member of the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD), I was delighted to see Melanie take the chair of our area association. She began to clear the way for other female colleagues to become more involved in the invaluable work of the NAFD. For many years, Melanie has also represented the NAFD as Public Relations Officer for the East Anglian Area Federation.

Ladies in hats

In 1996, we opened Hunnaball of Ipswich and were convinced that our growing group of lady funeral directors added a positive and unique aspect to our business. Melanie had the idea of calling them ‘Ladies in Hats’ and we launched our Ipswich branch firmly on the foundation of our lady funeral directors. It really took off and ‘Ladies in Hats’ has become a recognised brand. Looking back, we’ve had a long line of excellent women funeral directors as a result and now we’re able to celebrate equal numbers of male and female conductors in our company.

In my experience neither women nor men are better suited to work in the funeral industry. Both are more than capable in every role. It’s the individual human being who brings their unique personality, perspective and skills to the role they fulfil. Being a good funeral director is nothing to do with gender and everything to do with who you are as a person.

Janet C Davies

We’ve always actively encouraged colleagues in the industry, and that was the case with Janet Davies, a superb funeral director who has worked with us for a number of years. As a part of the Hunnaball Family Funeral Group, in 2004 she launched Janet C Davies Funeral Directors in Braintree, and later Kelvedon. Her branches are firmly established on the skill and reputation of women in the industry and have become integral parts of the community within which they are based.

Our amazing team

The Hunnaball Family Funeral Group has earned a reputation for compassion and professionalism, in great deal, because there are women in positions of authority and responsibility at every level of our business.

Currently, two of our Board of Directors are women, as well as a number of area managers. About half of our team of funeral conductors, almost all of our funeral arrangers, our training manager, and our embalmer are women. Women are an invaluable part of our marketing, accounts, memorials, and HR departments, and in any other area of the business you can think of, women play a central role, working tirelessly beside their equally highly valued male colleagues. I’m very proud that we’re an equal opportunities employer and do everything we can to help every member of our team fulfil their ambitions and become the best they can be at work. We’re not perfect, but we’re moving forward.

I’m so very thankful that the world we live in now, more than I could have imagined when I first started work, is a place where my daughter and granddaughters have an equal share with my sons and grandson.