26 July 2023

Family business helping farewell Illawarra loved ones for 130 years

| Jen White
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Black and white photo of a funeral ceremony by H. Parsons Funeral Directors.

Henry Parsons set up his funeral business at 135 Keira St, Wollongong, where it remained for many years. Photo: H. Parsons Funeral Directors.

Few family businesses would survive two or even three generations, but H. Parsons Funeral Directors can now boast five generations who have kept the business firmly in family hands.

Managing Director Alan Parsons, who is the fourth generation of the family involved with the Wollongong company, said very few businesses were lucky enough to still be around 130 years after first opening their doors.

“We’re incredibly proud to be one of the few funeral companies in the area that has been able to remain 100 per cent Australian and family owned,” he said.

“It truly does take a village. We know that we wouldn’t be where we are today without the dedication of our staff, the support of fellow local businesses, and the loyalty of the Illawarra community over the years.”

This Saturday (29 July), H. Parsons will throw open the doors of its Wollongong chapel to showcase 130 years of serving the Illawarra and how the face of the funeral industry has changed since Henry Parsons bought the business in 1893.

From horse-drawn carriages and mourning coaches to biodegradable urns and funerals via Zoom, H. Parsons Funeral Directors has seen it all and moved with the changing times and demands.

“The funeral industry is often considered to be traditional, so ‘innovative’ isn’t a word that’s often used to describe funeral directors, but it’s something we strive to be and technology is a really important part of that,” Alan said.

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“The Reflection Wall in our Wollongong chapel is a simple and beautiful way to personalise a funeral service by reflecting on the life of a loved one in cinematic quality.

“We’ve had the privilege to arrange funerals for surfers, professional ballet dancers, avid footy fans, and Aussies born overseas, whose families have used our Reflection Wall to pay homage to their loved one’s life by showcasing their favourite beach, their dancing stage, their team’s home ground or their hometown, just to name a few.”

H. Parsons has four chapels in the Illawarra and employs more than 50 staff. In 2018, the company opened Mountain View Crematoria (MVC) in Unanderra and started offering services that reflected society’s demands for more environmentally friendly funerals.

MVC offers a range of biodegradable urns, handcrafted from sustainable and renewable resources. One of the most popular is a biodegradable turtle urn. When it’s released in the ocean, the head of the turtle fills up and the turtle slowly descends into the water.

Alan and Anthony Parsons with one of their funeral vehicles at Wollongong Lighthouse.

Alan and his son Anthony, who is the fifth generation of the Parsons family to work in the business.

The company also joined forces with TAFE NSW at Shellharbour to recycle any unused or unwanted flowers. Through the Flower Reach Project, the flowers are donated and used by floristry students.

The company also encourages conversations around choices for end-of-life care.

Alan said many people, especially in Western cultures, still felt uncomfortable or ill-equipped to have a conversation about death and dying.

“Many of us don’t realise just how many decisions will need to be made at end-of-life or what options are available to us but I think most would agree that decisions associated with end-of-life planning are best made without the pain of grief that is often present immediately after a death,” he said.

“Acknowledging our mortality and putting an end-of-life plan in place is incredibly important, as it empowers you to think about what truly matters to you and to take some simple steps to ensure this is reflected at the end of your life.”

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Alan grew up living next door to the family-owned funeral home and assisting his father John in the business. After a stint travelling overseas, he joined the business at the age of 23, and worked alongside John until he passed away in 2011.

“One of my greatest rewards today is to be joined by my son Anthony, the fifth generation of H. Parsons Funeral Directors and to see this legacy continue,” he said.

“Integrity is at the heart of everything we do – we have always been and will always be committed to honesty, fairness and transparency. These principles extend throughout our business – we do everything we can to help families honour the life of their loved one without added uncertainty and stress.”

Saturday’s free event will be held at the chapel at 34 Belmore Street, Wollongong from 10 am – noon.

A brief history of H. Parsons
1893: Henry Parsons (aged 44) purchases William Hudson Funerals. He later renamed it H.Parsons Funeral Directors Builder and Undertaker.
1933: Henry passes away and his 12th child Alfred Reuben (“Pop”) Parsons acquires the company.
1950: Alfred Reuben’s third child John Henry Parsons, aged 15, commences work in the company.
1981: John acquires Stan Crapp Funerals and Rankins Funerals.
1990: H. Parsons moves from Keira St into a larger building on Belmore Street. Alfred Reuben passes, the family legacy in the hands of his son, John and grandsons, Mark and Alan.
2011: John passes away on 28 February.

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