Meet the Leeds funeral director dealing daily with life and death

PERSONAL EXPERIENCE OF LOSS: Alison Turnbull. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe
PERSONAL EXPERIENCE OF LOSS: Alison Turnbull. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe
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As A.Waite & Son marks its 125th anniversary, rod mcphee met alison turnbull (nee waite), the fifth generation to work in the family funeral firm.

“The thing I’m most proud of business-wise is how we have carried on the firm after my father, Andrew, died in 2008.

It has been very difficult but he taught us well about running things and we try to carry on his philosophy, and previous family’s philosophy, when it comes to the business.

A Waite & Son was established in 1888, but we’ve still moved and adapted with the times where it is needed. We’re one of the few independent funeral directors still in existence in Leeds. And as long as families are still saying thank you to us we know we are still doing a good job.

“On a personal level I’m proud of how my husband, Scott, and I, along with the rest of my family have got through our bad times. My daughter was my proudest moment even though she was stillborn in August. She’ll always be with us and be our first baby.

“The losses we have been through give us an understanding of how people feel, even though we are going through our own grief we can help people in their time of loss too. The satisfaction you feel is tremendous when a family say thank you and you know you’ve helped them through the worst time in their lives.

“If I could meet anyone I would like to meet Gary Barlow and his wife. I just feel for them as they lost their baby last year, only a few weeks before we did. I would just love to hug them, have a bit of a heart to heart and say: “This is hard isn’t it?” I really admired how Gary sang at the Olympics so soon after their loss. It must have been the most difficult thing to decide on, but life doesn’t stop just because you’ve had tragedy in your life. If he and his family felt that was right – and it is his job – then I think he was very brave to do that. All of us still have to work after bad times.

“There have been a lot of tears over the last eight months as a result of our personal loss, but I have been a very emotional person all my life so the last time I cried it could well have been just at an advert on the telly, or something like that.

The one thing I couldn’t live without? Our family dog, Harley. He’s a beagle and he’s been such a comfort to us.

“I have lots of happy memories of my childhood. We had many family holidays and my dad always made us laugh. I enjoyed school and was very good at singing, in fact I was in the school choir.

I also remember always being out with friends in the summer playing and we’ve always had dogs and pets so I have great memories of looking after these and taking the dog for a walk. Just usual childhood happy memories of friends, laughing and family.

“The best thing about Leeds, for me, has to be its culture. I love going to the theatre and watching musicals in my free time, so one thing I particularly like about the city is the Grand Theatre. I enjoy going to see Northern Ballet when they have their performances there, and I think that the company is something else Leeds can be proud of too.

As I have done ballet, dance and performing arts myself in the past, I really enjoy the fact that we have access to lots of different performance arts events locally.

I’m also looking forward to the opening of the arena as this will bring more great acts to Leeds for everyone to enjoy.

“Something about me that might surprise other people is that I used to play the trumpet and I could read music. 
I played quite well and was in the school band. Unfortunately, I don’t think I could remember how to play and read music now.

“My first job was working in a hairdressers as a Saturday girl when I was about 16 or 17 years old. I loved it, I just enjoyed the buzz of a salon and meeting all the different people. I then left to go to university, but I’ve also worked in a hospital as part of my university course, had a Christmas job at Debenhams on the Jon Richards jewellery stand and I’ve even worked at TGI Fridays.

“I’ve enjoyed all my previous jobs and I think some of those experiences actually help in my job today.

Meeting people, knowing how to read them and how to interact with them is a good skill to have developed. You sometimes have to know how people want you to be and how they want you to react to them as everyone is different in their time of grief.

“To relax I love to read, go to the theatre, take the dog for a walk, and take in some music and sunshine.

“The best piece of advice I received was not to worry and not to let people get to you. I’m very much a worrier – but I am getting better. Sometimes I can’t even remember what it is I should be worrying about. I do try not to, as in the end everything works out one way or another, so sometimes you worry for nothing. 
I’ve also learnt that letting people get to you is pointless too. When I was little my mum told me that sometimes people are only nasty because they are jealous and when you get older you realise this is very true.

“My philosophy on life is: keep calm and carry on. I often think of this when I’m stressed or upset. Also, if you do a job well people won’t be sure if you’ve done anything at all. I like this phrase as I sometimes feel like this, it means that if you do everything right people have no reason to complain or think about what you are doing. If people started to question me or complain I’d then have reason to think I was doing something wrong.

“My first crush? Well, my friends and family laugh at me as there are lots of actors and singers that prompt me to say ‘Ooh, he’s nice!’ but the first person I remember actually fancying is Morten Harket from the pop band A-Ha.”

A. Waite and Son Funeral Service, Hall Lane, Armley, Leeds.

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