A FUNERAL directors boss, whose firm has branches across Hertfordshire, has died.

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John Harwood Austin, of Austin’s Funeral Directors, passed away on April 1 after a short illness. He was 76.

Austin’s has branches in Welwyn and Welwyn Garden City and a crematorium near Knebworth.

The popular businessman was born on September 26, 1935 to Arthur William ‘Bill’, a Stevenage builder and undertaker, and Lilian, the daughter of Fredrick ‘Fred’ Chelsom, tobacconist in Stevenage High Street.

He was educated at Letchmore Road School, just a short distance from W Austin & Sons business premises and builders’ yard.

At the age of eight, he became the youngest pupil ever to attend Alleynes Grammar School in Stevenage.

As a boy, John’s first experience of business was delivering Senior Service cigarettes on his bicycle to his grandfather’s customers.

At the age of 18, while on holiday with his parents and sister, Elisabeth, Mr Austin saved a mother and her two children from drowning off the Cornish coast.

In recognition of his bravery, he was awarded the Boy Scouts Association Gilt Cross for Gallantry.

In 1962 he married Jean Spencer, with whom he would spend the next, very happy, 50 years of his life.

Mr Austin’s working life did not start in the family business.

He served an apprenticeship as a carpenter and joiner with Fosters of Hitchin.

In January 1965, he took over the family building and undertaking firm.

In 1978, John took the decision to dissolve the building business and to focus on Austin’s primarily as Funeral Directors.

Throughout his life he was a member of many clubs and associations including Round Table, 41 Club, masonic lodge, Rotary and Probus.

Together, John and Jean formed ‘Hoppers Hobblers’ a walking group which they ran for 17 years.

In 1983 he moved to Datchworth, where he was a member and chairman of the parish council for a number of years.

He is survived by his wife Jean, children, Claire and David, and grandchildren, Lydia and Oscar.

The funeral service will take place at 2pm on Saturday (April 14) at St. Mary’s Church, Welwyn.

* Donations can be made in memory of John to the RNLI or East and North Herts Hospitals Charity (ICU-5928).C/o Austin’s Funeral Service, 9-11 Letchmore Road, Stevenage Herts SG1 3JH.

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