Changing Of The Guard

By: Steve Fowler
Thursday, April 30, 2015

Ian D. Macarthur is retiring today.

There is nothing terribly unusual about a career winding down – thousands do every day. And, in the grand scheme of things this one probably won’t warrant any more attention than any of the rest, but, in our world, this is a big deal. In many regards it’s the end of an era.

Ian David Macarthur is a funeral director and, in our community, the last of his generation of funeral directors to retire from the profession. When he took his first job in funeral service, straight out of university in 1972, the profession was still a male bastion. It was still a very traditional business without a lot of variety or many personal touches. And, even by today’s standards, the hours were torturous. “$70 a week and all the hours you could manage,” as Ian once told me.

While Ian’s generation have often been implicated as those responsible for holding on to “the old ways” and resisting change I see it a little differently. It was, in fact, these folks who ushered in all the change the profession has seen in the past 40 years. Admittedly they were cautious about it but when you realize that they managed all of this change while safeguarding the dignity, respect and professionalism that are the cornerstones of funeral service, you begin to see what a remarkable group they were.

When merging businesses brought Ian into the funeral homes I work with about seven years ago, I watched with interest to see how this entrenched member of the old guard would make out fitting into our relatively young team. It took about a week to get an answer to that question. The first time I saw Ian on a funeral I knew, with absolute certainty, that not only was he going to do just fine but that we had gained an invaluable asset.

Ian is a consummate professional and about five minutes watching him work made that perfectly clear. New team, new building – no matter. This was a funeral and he was in his element. Attentive, respectful, fully engaged and constantly moving – there was no hesitation. With a family in his care, he simply did what he’d spent his life doing and did it very well.

While I’m an administrative type, I do see a bit of the ‘operational’ side of the business when things are busy (ie: I have a black coat too), and so I’ve had the opportunity to work directly with Ian on a number of occasions and, in doing so, gained another insight into his skills. We have a great team here but working with Ian is a special experience because he makes sure you know just how much he appreciates even the smallest assistance. He appreciates his team, is genuinely grateful and sincere in letting you know.

Perhaps the most telling thing I’ve witnessed as I’ve watched this remarkable career evolve is the extraordinary influence that Ian has had on his younger colleagues. If you’ve met him, you will know he’s not anybody’s idea of an aggressive personality. He doesn’t preach but he certainly does teach. He’s everybody’s friend and the rest of the staff here have had a lot of fun working with him. They love to tease him and point out his quirks but every time I hear a funny ‘Ian’ story from one of the younger crowd, I can usually also pick out the lesson that went with it. During Ian’s time with us he has been a working funeral director – I think he had his fill of supervisory roles when he owned his own business years ago – but his influence has been unmistakable. ‘Uncle E’ has been mentor, friend and confidant to a whole new generation of funeral service professionals and has effortlessly earned their respect – and yes, love – just by being who he is and doing what he does.

Ian Macarthur has spent most of the past 43 years of his life helping to honour the achievements of other lives. Today we honour his – thankfully while he’s still around to hear it. Ian, take a bow and then take off your tie and enjoy your retirement. No one has ever deserved it more. You have made a difference my friend and you will be missed.

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