HELPING organise the send-off of music legend John Bonham will be one of the many lasting memories funeral director Ray Giles takes away from his 55-year career when he retires this week.
Ray, aged 70, joined family firm James Giles and Sons when he was just 15. He says he has seen a lot memorable services over the years.
As well as the Led Zeppelin drummer’s farewell, Ray recalls one where the coffin arrived and departed on a canal barge.
Ray, whose firm took over A Dyer & Sons funeral directors in Studley three years ago, says he has seen a lot of changes throughout his long career.
He said: “We only had one phone to begin with and that was at our office where my uncle Fred lived.
“If someone passed away in the middle of the night, he would come around with the line prop and tap on the window to wake us up and we would go out in all hours and weathers.
“It was worse in the winter because the cars did not have heaters in them so you would be wrapped in layers and blankets.”
The Bromsgrove resident also remembers the business having a crate of Davenport’s and a bottle opener on a string out the back.
“That was for the local beat bobby who was working late – he would pop in for a beer and then get back out there.
“At Christmas time we always laid out a table of food for police officers and ambulance staff to come and have when they could grab a moment from their shifts.”
Another change has seen machines which shape the coffins introduced, replacing the past technique of repeatedly boiling kettles and using the steam to shape the wood.
There have also been changes to funeral cermonies.
“Back then it was all religious services with hymns whereas now we have civic celebrants and the choice of music is more varied – a lot of families lead them themselves and we are more the co-ordinator than the organiser.”
One of the hardest times for Ray has been these last few months.
“Covid-19 has not only meant we have had to make adjustments, like screens in the limousines, but it has also been a horrible experience for those who have lost loved ones.
“It has been very difficult for people as we have not been able to make arrangements with them face-to-face and they have not been able to have the services they want because of the restrictions.”
Ray puts the compassion, caring and ensuring everything is done with dignity down to the reason James Giles and Sons has been here for 104 years.
He said he knew it was time to retire, knowing the business was in the safe hands of the family.
“I would like to thank all the families we have dealt with over the years.
“It has been an honour and a privilege to be there for families during some of the most difficult times in their lives.”