John Harwood Austin, who died aged 76 on 1 April 2012, was the ninth generation of his family to run Hertfordshire-based funeral directors Austin’s.
Born on 26 September 1935, at the age of eight he became the youngest ever pupil to attend Alleynes Grammar School in Stevenage. At the age of 18, while on holiday with his family, he saved a mother and her two children from drowning off the Cornish coast. In recognition of his bravery, John was awarded the Boy Scouts Association Gilt Cross for Gallantry.
Following the sudden death of his father, Arthur, he took over the family building and undertaking firm in January 1965. W Austin & Sons was responsible for many residential and commercial developments in Stevenage but in 1978 John decided to dissolve the building side of the business and focus on Austin’s as a funeral directors. Over the next 25 years he established the firm as a leading Hertfordshire independent funeral directors.
John spent much of the 1970s trying to persuade local councils to provide a crematorium for north Herts, both to ease the pressure on Luton and Watford and to prevent grieving families having to travel so far. Financial constraints were the reason for the councils’ reluctance, so John proposed building a private crematorium on a municipal site.
In 1997, after almost 30 years of campaigning, John opened Harwood Park Crematorium and Memorial Gardens. Today the 25-acre site carries out 2,200 cremations annually and employs nine members of staff.
In addition to his work for Austin’s, John was heavily involved in the wider industry and in 1994 was president of the European branch of SIFH (Selected Independent Funeral Homes).
John was actively involved in the local community and enjoyed treading the boards with the Lytton Players. He was a member of Round Table, 41 Club, Masonic Lodge, Rotary and Probus. He was also a member and chairman of the Parish Council in Datchworth where he lived for many years.
John married Jean Spencer in 1962. He is survived by Jean, his children David and Claire (the current managing director of Austin’s Funeral Directors) and grandchildren Lydia and Oscar.