A week in the life – Frank Rigby, Ashbourne branch manager
In this latest feature about the work of colleagues, we talk to Frank Rigby – funeral arranger, funeral conductor, manager of our Ashbourne branch and Wathall’s longest serving team member.
As always, I am up at 5.30am to take our two beagles for their morning constitutional before returning home to get ready for work. I can honestly say that I have never dreaded going to work throughout my 42 years with Wathalls and I particularly love the journey into Ashbourne since I have been branch manager here as the beautiful scenery along the country roads always puts a smile on my face.
I spend the morning catching up on any outstanding matters with the funerals that I am personally arranging or those that I will be conducting during the coming week.
I then take a call from a local family who have sadly lost their elderly relative and take as much information as I can before arranging to go to their home the following evening to take the full instructions. The majority of the Ashbourne funerals are at churches and church graveyards and this is no exception so I contact the vicar immediately to check on availability so that a date can be confirmed and all the arrangements can be finalised at the meeting with the family.
I am conducting a funeral this morning for an Ashbourne family so I get in bright and early to be ready for the day. I contacted the family yesterday to check they were alright and to run through the details of the cremation service at Markeaton. The florist delivers the flowers and then my colleagues arrive with the hearse and two limousines. We drive over to the house to collect the family and make our way to Markeaton Crematorium. The sons and grandsons are the pall bearers so I ensure they are comfortable holding the coffin. One of the many tips that Bill taught me was to wait for a moment at the entrance door and look behind to ensure all the family are in place and we make our way into the chapel. I guide the family to their seats and then show them out at the end of the service before taking them back to a local community centre for the wake which is when I take my leave.
I am one of three colleagues at Wathall’s who conducts as well as arranges funerals. I enjoy the variety that the dual role brings and the families also appreciate the continuity of dealing with one person throughout. I started work at Wathall’s as a young lad – making coffins at the workshop in Macklin Street and then started driving. I was made a funeral conductor in my mid twenties and, in those days I was considered quite young for the role. However, Bill Wathall, my boss at the time and father of our MD Helen Wathall, said I showed promise and took me under his wing and the rest – as they say – is history.
I am in the office all day today and have two very different meetings in the diary. The first is to arrange a funeral on Zoom with a gentleman’s son and daughter who both live at opposite ends of the country. This is an option which has continued since the pandemic when we were not allowed to have meetings face to face and it is a good way of ensuring that everyone’s views and wishes are taken into consideration.
The next meeting is with a family in the office who have a very clear idea of what they want for the funeral of their father. When I first started in this job, funerals were very much prescribed by the vicar but times have very much changed. The deceased was a huge music fan and the family have chosen his favourite songs to be played in the church. They have also chosen a stylised coffin to reflect his taste in music. We handle all sorts of funerals and both Bill and Helen’s mantra has been that we will sort out anything – as long as it is legal! The most memorable funeral I have arranged and conducted was for a chap who passed away far too early but was a huge Star Wars fan and had left strict instructions of how he wanted his funeral to be. I will never forget leading the funeral procession alongside someone dressed as Darth Vadar followed by a small army of Storm Troopers. It set the tone for the funeral as being a wonderful celebration of life.
It’s a particularly beautiful day in Ashbourne today and, in between phone calls and emails, I am inspired by the sunshine to create a new window display to be enjoyed by passers by in Union Street which is just off the Market Place. Having adorned the window with bunting for the past few weeks to mark the King’s coronation, I have created a beach scene to reflect the time of year. Ashbourne has a particularly strong business community and we all try and make our windows as attractive as possible to mark calendar events and special occasions. As I go outside to check the final details and have a good sweep up in front of the office, I am stopped by various local people who I know – many of whose family members I have arranged and conducted funerals for – and it is great to catch up on family and local news.
I then open the gates for a colleague to is bringing over a local person who will stay here until the funeral next week and the family have requested that they pay their last respects in the chapel of rest. This is particularly important for family members or close friends who have not had the chance to see their loved one recently and it is a sad but uplifting moment for them in equal measure.
Back at my desk and, just before I close down the computer and head home, I take the opportunity to read through the local Ashbourne News Telegraph which was delivered yesterday. Having caught up with the local news it is always good to turn to the sports pages to see how Clifton Cricket Club, who Wathall’s sponsor, are doing this season.
I have another funeral to conduct today – this time from the Derby office in Macklin Street. I have already arranged the funeral for the family because, as a team we are all flexible regarding the location and the Derby-based colleagues have been particularly busy in recent weeks.
The extended family and friends are scattered across the UK and even overseas so I have worked with a specialist company to ensure this funeral service in the church can be live-streamed which is another positive throwback from the pandemic. After the service, the family have opted for a burial so I guide the family into the graveyard where one of my main jobs is to pass the box of earth around the family members before returning to the car to take them to the wake.
I work the rest of the day from the Derby office. It is always good to catch up with colleagues even though, I have to admit, I rather like the quiet of being in the Ashbourne office on my own. I head home with my wife Lynne who also works at the Derby office and we plan to spend the weekend seeing family on Saturday and then heading out into the countryside on Sunday for lunch and a long walk with the dogs.