Fate forced decision to take over family business

Time to draw breath . . . Bob and Gaynor Campbell have retired after working at Campbell & Sons funeral services for about 90 years combined. PHOTO: SHAWN MCAVINUE

A Mosgiel funeral director is retiring 50 years after having to make the sudden decision to leave school and take sole charge of the family business.

Bob Campbell (67) is the third generation of his family to provide funeral services as Campbell & Sons at the company’s Gordon Rd site.

His grandfather, also named Robert, opened R. Campbell Coachbuilder, General and Horse Shoer on the site in 1895.

As part of the operation, his grandfather made coffins and later started a funeral service. His grandfather died in 1927 and his son, another Robert, continued the business.

However, he had a heart attack and died suddenly, aged 59, on October 1, 1967.

Mr Campbell, then a 17-year-old Taieri High School pupil, had to decide if he would take sole charge of the family business.

“I decided to chuck in school and give it a go, but it was pretty tough going.”

He was “accepted and supported” by the community and industry because his father was “popular and respected”.

“In saying that, I still had to do a good job.”

The work was “hard going” and the “learning curve” steep, including the hurdle of teaching himself how to embalm.

The changes in the industry in the past 50 years had been “huge”.

When he entered the industry, he made the coffins the company used himself, a skill he had learned working with his father in the school holidays.

Now coffins were sourced from manufacturers.

When he started, funerals were not catered and children did not attend and a funeral director was expected to wear black and drive a black hearse.

Funerals were led by clergy then, but celebrants were more common at services now, he said.

The industry used to be dominated by men but now women were at “the fore”.

The livestreaming of funerals was a “big change” and allowed people to watch the service around the world.

The “biggest down side” of the job was being “on call 24/7”.

“Unfortunately, people don’t die between 8am and 5pm on a Monday to Friday.”

His wife, Gaynor, was retiring after 40 years of being “heavily involved” at Campbell & Sons.

The pair ran the business on their own until about 20 years ago, when they took on staff.

His wife helped lift bodies on to stretchers, did the office work and catering and helped with the embalming and cosmetology work.

An upside of the job was that every day presented a new challenge.

The work was also rewarding, as it involved helping people at a time when they were vulnerable, he said.

In retirement, he would continue his work as fundraising chairman for the Taieri Community Facilities Trust’s bid to have an aquatic facility built in Mosgiel, Mr Campbell said.

His sons, Clark and Adam, now ran the business.

He and his wife would do consultancy work for the business. They were also on call to babysit their four, soon to be five, grandchildren.