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Funeral service back in local hands

Robert Milne, and Jo Piper standing outside Wairarapa Funeral Services, which is back in local ownership. PHOTO/ELI HILL

ELI HILL
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Wairarapa Funeral Services is back under local ownership after more than two decades.

Manager Robert Milne took over the reins from Invocare Australasia last week.

Milne, who has worked at the company for more than 21 years, said the move was a big positive for Wairarapa.

“Around the country we’re still seeing corporate companies buying up funeral companies, not selling them, so we’re very fortunate here.”

All up, Milne has been in the industry 32 years, beginning his career aged 16 at a Lower Hutt funeral home, cleaning out cars, ashtrays and toilets.

He did a two-year course learning how to embalm at the Central Institute of Technology, graduating aged 18.

“It’s not the sort of thing you dream about in kindergarten …

“I remember when I did it I was the youngest person to do an embalming course at the time, and they called me a pimply-faced schoolboy in a news article.

“It was a lot for an 18-year-old to be taking on but it seems that because of the way they were brought into the industry and trained, a lot of those 18 year olds have stayed in the industry.”

Milne spent nine years in the Hutt Valley before moving to Thames, then Auckland.

“I didn’t enjoy Auckland as much. I felt I didn’t have that same connection to people. I didn’t know them. When the chance came to move to Wairarapa came up, we grabbed it, and we’ve loved it here since.”

Milne began in Masterton as a qualified funeral director and embalmer before becoming a manager around 10 years ago and said community, particularly the rural community, was what attracted him to Wairarapa.

“Whereas in Auckland you were nobody, in Masterton you know who’s around and you have connections and networks and it’s just so much more personable.

“I love it. I’ve raised a family in Masterton, my kids have gone through the schools, I’ve been involved in coaching and playing football, hockey. I just love what a small town offers you.”

The service has two staff, Milne, and qualified embalmer and funeral director Joanne Piper, who also began her career aged 16 – working at the same funeral home Milne started at.

Milne said the funeral industry had changed considerably.

“Back when we were growing up, children weren’t expected at funerals, and now they’re very much a part of it.

“It’s more inclusive, probably going away from more of a religious ceremony to being more of a celebration of somebody’s life and what they’ve achieved.”

Milne said helping to farewell people created a lot of value for the community.

“A funeral gets the support network of the family rallying around and being able to share in that loss which is a great thing, and it’s where Wairarapa shines. It’s a community that’s so supportive and so caring.

“The best thing for me is providing a service to people when they need it. I don’t think there can be anything more satisfying than being able to offer something that is of value and assistance to people at a really hard time.”

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