A life spent with death

For most people, a funeral directors is not a place to spend longer than strictly necessary. But one remarkable woman has notched up no fewer than 60 years dealing with grieving families and making sure everything goes to plan during that final ritual.

For most people, a funeral directors is not a place to spend longer than strictly necessary.

But one remarkable woman has notched up no fewer than 60 years dealing with grieving families and making sure everything goes to plan during that final ritual.

Frances Freestone, 80, still works full-time and reckons she has dealt with around 3,000 funerals over her long career. Based at Youngs Funeral Directors, in Loddon, she is an equal partner in the business which also includes Youngs Hardware and Foulgers Funeral Services, in Shotesham.

She still has no plans to retire - and her achievement is all the more impressive given that she suffered from an undiagnosed illness for years, and doctors thought she would not live past the age of 21.

She said: “They didn't expect me to live at 21 and here I am at 80. I was ill when I came here and Youngs looked after me. They were like a mother and father to me.”

As a teenager it had never crossed her mind to work for a funeral directors - but an unusual recruitment method led to her starting at the firm, which was then Youngs Builders and Undertakers.

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Miss Freestone, who lives in Loddon, said: “The old Mr Youngs went to the public house in Bergh Apton, which was the Red Lion in those days. He was looking for a girl to do his office work. The landlady said to him, 'I know just the girl for you.' When I went to him, I said, 'whatever you do, don't let me see a body'. I think it was a while before I saw one, but I am certainly not afraid of bodies now!”

After starting as an office girl, the business was left to her and her brother in 1972. After her brother's retirement six years ago Martyn Smith stepped in and they are now equal partners.

She says she does not find the work morbid.

“The hardest thing is making everything go as it should do. You arrange the hearse and make sure it is there on time and all the pall bearers and so on; there is a lot to do. You don't enjoy people being upset and ill and things like that but you do what you can to help and you enjoy that.”

She has seen a lot of changes, including a trend from burials to cremations, and a move away from having an undertaker in every village. Back in the 1940s, Youngs only handled a dozen funerals a year, but now it is around 80.

She said: “Sixty years is a long time, but it doesn't feel a long time really. I have no plans to retire. Firstly I can't afford to and secondly I don't want to. When I am sitting at my desk, that is when I am happy.”

Mr Smith, who has been in the trade for 40 years himself, said: “Everyone knows Frances. The funeral businesss is her life. I said to her, while you can do it and want to do it, carry on.

“She does all the arrangements and always puts everything together. She does all the liaison with the vicars and do on, she deals with the families, which can be difficult, she does the paperwork for the crematoriums. She does a very good job. She is sharp as a button.

“She is just a remarkable woman. Everyone is full of admiration for her.”