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Our Ceremonies Team
David Mitchell lives in Pettaugh, near Stowmarket. In a previous life he was a bank manager, but it never offered the job satisfaction that his current role does. His first funeral was an interment in a bitingly cold Bury St Edmunds cemetery in December 2001. He was grateful for the thick woollen overcoat his wife bought him soon afterwards, so he’d never be so cold again. David’s done over a thousand funerals since then and covered hundreds of miles, usually while listening to a spoken word version of a Scandinavian crime novel in the car.
East Anglian through and through, David can trace both sides of his family back many generations in Suffolk and Norfolk. He’s even had a DNA test to prove his ancestors came as part of the great migrations into East Anglia from Northern Europe between 1500 and 1000 years ago.
Always interested in his older subjects’ life stories and in twentieth century history, David likes to weave the two together when preparing funeral eulogies, so that the stories are told against the background of the times they lived through. He says that when mourners tell him, “You must have known old So-and-So very well,” and the answer is invariably, “I’ve never met him (or her),” he knows he’s done a good job.
David’s had many appreciative letters and cards over the years from clients but he’s particularly pleased with one he had last year from a lady whose father’s funeral he conducted in 2008 and whose mother’s was in March 2011. She wrote, “You have a wonderful gift for making the most ‘ordinary’ lives seem special. It is much appreciated”. He says that’s the sort of thing that motivates him to get out of bed in the mornings.
Sue Hewlett joined us in February 2010. She’d retired from teaching after twenty-four years at the same Suffolk primary school, where she says, “I was lucky to work in a team that put its own ethos first, remained child centred and scheme free (well nearly) for most of my time there.” Her first year of retirement was spent learning about Stutton, where she lives, and where people quietly go about helping others. Looking for a way to keep fit, she started a local rickshaw service, which is now in its third year and has turned out to be great fun. Elderly people enjoy its slow pace and it’s great for nosy folk who like to see into other people’s gardens (says Sue).
After one of her first funerals, a funeral director told us, “Sue does a jolly good funeral,” and her reputation as a quietly conscientious and caring celebrant is spreading. Though she didn't know it at first, her personal journey towards becoming a celebrant began in 1963 when, as a thirteen year old, she stood next to her mother at her brother’s funeral. It brought her no comfort whatsoever and in no way helped her parents. It took her a very long time to realise that her brother’s life, though short, had been worthy of celebration. She’s now resolved to help other people to seize an opportunity that was denied to her family.
Sue’s now established as a member of our team and has conducted funerals, weddings and baby-namings, which have all been appreciated. She enjoys meeting people and hearing their stories, and then the challenge of writing a script that expresses what’s important to them. On the day, she likes the discipline and the theatre of the ceremony. Sue says she’s learned a huge amount over the last couple of years.
Sophie Lovejoy has been with Suffolk Humanists since our celebrant Marie Haworth (now retired) conducted a baby-naming ceremony for her eldest child in 2001. After talking to Marie, Sophie came to realise that she may have the potential to become a celebrant herself. When her youngest child was old enough, Sophie trained with the team. She’s been conducting funerals since 2004, as well as occasional weddings and baby-namings. Sophie says she’s enormously proud to be associated with “a fantastic team”, and that she feels privileged to work with families to produce the best possible ceremony for them. Though she hated history at school, it’s been a surprise to her that the history she hears about through her ceremonies is so fascinating and she frequently does additional research to find out more about what she’s learned from an interview.
Sophie came to Colchester in 1991 to study psychology at the university. After graduation, she stayed at the university to work in a number of roles. Since September 2009, she’s been an organisational developer at the University of Westminster. She recently gained a qualification as a management coach and, although proud of her certificate, the Grade 1 in Roller Skating she gained in 2010 still takes pride of place in her home!
Sophie lives in Brightlingsea with her children, two bantams and three chickens. She chose the town for its sense of community and as well as shopping locally and participating in town life, she’s a governor at the local primary school.
Although Sophie has chosen to work part-time (in order to spend time with her children, but also so she can remain active as a celebrant) and usually works from home, she’s only available for a limited number of ceremonies due to work commitments.
Margaret Nelson from Elmsett was the first humanist celebrant in Suffolk when she began officiating in 1991. At that time, it was difficult to arrange a non-religious funeral in the area. Soon afterwards, Margaret founded the Suffolk Humanist group, which has been growing ever since.
For her first few years as a celebrant, Margaret covered an area from North Suffolk to Mid-Essex. As she got busier, she recruited more members of the group as celebrants. Two were former clients; Marie Haworth and Yvonne Peecock, who’ve both since retired. Since the mid-'90s, the number of non-religious celebrants, or celebrants who are willing to do semi-religious ceremonies, has increased. Today’s clients have plenty of choice. Margaret is proud of the fact that we've provided humanist funerals, free from religion, for thousands of satisfied clients and that we have an unblemished record for high standards. We’re the originals, and we aim to be the best. However, due to health problems, Margaret is rarely available to conduct ceremonies. She still acts as the team's co-ordinator and main contact, and is available to provide advice and information to enquirers. She's helped people to plan funerals that they'll conduct themselves, in return for a donation to our group's funds. There are no rules that say you must have a religious minister or accredited celebrant to conduct a funeral, and many families manage without.