Chatting with Victoria Millross at Philip Ford and Son
TODAY is International Women's Day - a day that is celebrated around the world each year as a focal point in the movement for women's rights.
This year's theme is “Choose to Challenge”.
To mark the event, the SNJ has spoken to female funeral director Victoria Millross about her life in what has traditionally been a male-dominated profession, and also about the challenges the pandemic poses for the funeral sector.
Victoria has worked at Philip Ford and Son in Stroud, part of Dignity Funerals, for five years.
She said she became interested in the profession after suffering a close bereavement.
“I was working in a restaurant when I suffered a very close bereavement, losing a cousin that was a similar age to me,” she said.
“It was the first family funeral I could remember, and I was overwhelmed by the care and attention to detail of the funeral director.
"Afterwards, I told my mum that it had sparked an interest in the profession, and she encouraged me to try and gain some work experience.”
After spending a week with a local funeral business, Victoria noticed a vacancy for a funeral service operative at Philip Ford & Son in Stroud.
She said: "This is typically a role undertaken by a man as it involves carrying the coffin and driving the hearse or limousine, but I quit my job at the restaurant and was determined to show I could do it.”
“I feel I was driven to care for other bereaved families the way that funeral director had cared for us.
"I was just 21 years old and the only female in Gloucestershire working as a funeral service operative - so I did have to overcome some unintended prejudices to prove that a young woman could do the role as well as a man.”
Victoria was promoted to funeral director two and a half years ago.
“I’ve been very lucky to have another woman, Michelle, as my mentor,” said Victoria.
“She’s our manager so I think she’s enjoyed passing on her knowledge to me.
"My family have also been very supportive, and it’s becoming more accepted for women to take on roles that traditionally would have been done by a man.”
Facing death as part of her daily life and work might seem difficult for some but Victoria has found supporting those who are dealing with bereavement very rewarding.
She said: “It’s very rewarding when a family tells me that I’ve helped them or provided comfort.”
The theme of this year's International Women’s Day is “Choose to Challenge” – which is somewhat appropriate for the funeral sector as it strives to cope with the changing demands of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The past 12 months have definitely been a challenging time,” said Victoria.
“We have had to quickly adapt to both the restrictions on funerals and constantly changing circumstances to ensure our clients and colleagues remain safe. Funerals may not return to how we knew them for a while, but we are working tirelessly to help families organise a respectful funeral for their loved one.”
The management team at Philip Ford & Son have been very impressed by Victoria’s commitment to her role.
“We are very proud of Victoria,” said manager, Michelle Weare.
“She has not only proven that women can be excellent funeral directors, but that young people can be too.”
In pre-Victorian times, before funeral directing became a profession, the practical tasks required when someone in a community died were divided amongst the male and female members of the family or village.
The caring job of ‘laying out’ the dead would be allocated to a local woman or women, who may well have also acted as a midwife.
The men would be responsible for physical tasks such as digging the grave, making a coffin, transporting the deceased and - if the family did not have enough men to fulfil the task - providing additional men to carry the coffin.