Tribute after death of Stevenage stalwart

THE family of a man well-known in the community have paid tribute to a “larger than life” character following his death.

John Harwood Austin died on Sunday, April 1, following a short illness.

He was 76 and leaves behind his wife Jean, children Claire and David, and grandchildren Lydia and Oscar.

Mr Austin, as head of Austin’s Family Funeral Directors, which has branches in Hitchin, Stevenage and Knebworth, is behind the establishment of Harwood Park Crematorium on Watton Road in Stevenage.

He took over the family building and undertaking firm in January 1965, following the death of his father, and dissolved the building business in 1978 to focus on Austin’s as a funeral directors.

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“His commitment to the community and the bereaved was demonstrated in his determination to provide a crematorium for Stevenage and the surrounding areas,” says a family tribute.

“This became the biggest challenge of his life, but the opening of Harwood Park Crematorium and Memorials Gardens in 1997 saw the realisation of his dream.”

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The tribute continues: “Stevenage was his passion - his love of the Old Town, in particular, and his indepth knowledge of its history.

“He spent his life sharing, with humour, stories about the town, the business and the community he loved so much.

“John will be remembered for so many aspects of his life, but overwhelmingly as a person of the community.”

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

Mr and Mrs Austin also formed a walking group called Hoppers Hobblers, which they ran for 17 years.

The tribute says: “It was through the Lytton Players that John displayed his larger than life persona on stage - whether it was his wit with the gavel as chairman in the Old Time Musical Hall, his many roles in Gilbert and Sullivan productions, or his portrayal of Alfred Doolittle in My Fair Lady at the Gordon Craig Theatre in 1977.”

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

Following the service, a reception to celebrate his life will be held at Harwood Park.

Donations in memory of Mr Austin can be made to the RNLI or East and North Herts Hospitals Charity c/o Austin’s Funeral Service, 9-11 Letchmore Road, Stevenage, Hertfordshire, SG1 3JH.

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