This year’s New Year’s Honours list, announced today, includes a name well known in the world of funerals, and to many residents of Croydon and the surrounding districts. Tony Rowland, who lives in South Croydon, is director of Rowland Brothers Limited, based in Whitehorse Road, West Croydon, and with branches throughout the area, and is an active participant in many local charities and community projects. Tony has been awarded an MBE ‘For services to Undertaking and the community in Surrey’.

One driving ambition has motivated Tony Rowland throughout his adult life and does so still. It is to help create a society in which all are treated equally, as men, women and young people who – whatever their circumstances – deserve to receive compassionate treatment in times of personal difficulty. The work to which he was apprenticed at the age of 15 in the year of the Queen’s coronation quickly identified to him that supporting people through the grief and loss of bereavement was an area in which he could make a difference. From that time on, his family funeral business has always been much more than a means of making a living. Now, at the age of 80 and still working full time, he can look back on innovations for which he was personally responsible, which have become standards the undertaking profession seeks universally to attain. He is a man who has changed things with his initiative and practical achievements.

One such innovation was setting up, four decades ago, a continuing bereavement aftercare programme for all individuals and families making use of his firm’s services – at no extra cost to them. He established this at a time when professional bereavement counselling was yet to become generally available to grieving people. Dedicating specific members of staff solely to this purpose, Tony ensures that sympathetic contact is made immediately following a funeral, and continues for at least a year afterwards, and often much longer. Both practical assistance and emotional support are readily and sensitively provided to people who are often unsure how to cope in the often heart-breaking situation in which they suddenly find themselves.

A second innovation was the establishment of a worldwide network and support structure improving hugely the efficient and compassionate repatriation of deceased British nationals who die while on holiday or working overseas, and citizens of other countries who die in similar circumstances in the UK. Since 1971, Tony has been responsible for more than 40,000 such repatriations, utilising his personally established network of 500 agents throughout the world. He has always regarded this as so much more than an administrative exercise and frequently goes far beyond the call of duty in his extra-mile service.

The 40,000 repatriations included the return of all the UK citizens who died in the South Asia tsunami. Tony is continually involved in the consequences of disasters around the world, including the 9/11 and 7/7 bombings, travel disasters, extreme weather emergencies and overseas hostage situations.

Such work involves Tony in discussions with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and its embassies and consulates around the world, overseas diplomats and foreign government offices, coroners, airlines, travel companies, insurance bodies and health organisations. As a result, Tony is regarded as an expert in international repatriation and lectures at Scotland Yard to police family liaison officers and to the Rapid Response Team at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Tony is also a training officer for new UK diplomats being prepared for overseas assignments.

Tony’s company, which was an official supplier to the 2012 London Olympics, provides the official repatriation helpline for the National Association of Funeral Directors.

Another innovation was the development of his funeral planning company, Golden Leaves, which was originally developed in 1984 and was one of the first funeral plan providers in the UK. The company has now grown to be one of the most reputable funeral plan providers in the industry and is now based at the No.1 Croydon building outside East Croydon station. Tony was instrumental in developing the first standards in the funeral plan industry when he helped develop the National Association of Prepaid Funeral Plans of which he was chairman in the 1990s. Golden Leaves is also a founding member of the Funeral Planning Authority, provides funeral plans to all UK residents, to British expatriates living abroad and include in their innovations a green burial plan and the industry’s leading insurance plan. The Trustees in charge of all funds are very highly individuals including a retired vice present of the OFT and the President of the European standards committee and Chairman of the UK National Consumer Federation.

Tony’s work has also been characterised by his ability to relate to people of all ethnic origins and religious affiliations, and also – increasingly importantly – to those with no faith at all. Not only does he expertly meet the needs of the whole gamut of Christian denominations, but he is also equally adept at understanding and complying sympathetically with the customs of all major world faiths. For example, he is particularly appreciated by the African-Caribbean community, being almost unique in some of the services he provides.

Tony has served as Chairman of the Croydon Association of Funeral Directors and President of the London Association of Funeral Directors. In this capacity, he has been a mentor to many young people coming into this business as well as a staunch advocate for continually improving standards.

In addition to his exemplary professional work, in which he exhibits great personal credibility, integrity and compassion, Tony is involved in local charitable and community work to a quite remarkable, often sacrificial, degree. As well as contributing actively to the work of such groups as Rotary, the Round Table, the Royal British Legion, Freemasonry, Scouting and schools he has personally raised considerable sums of money through his tireless fundraising efforts on their behalf. To facilitate its charity work, Rowland Brothers set up the Rowland Brothers Foundation, whose income is boosted by regular donations from the family businesses.

One ongoing contribution to his local community is as Chairman of the Thornton Heath Business Partnership, in which role he organises the annual Thornton Heath Festival, which he inaugurated eleven years ago. This highlights the work of youth groups such as Scouts, Guides, the Boys’ Brigade and cadet corps, with the aim of influencing young people to join them rather than the often knife-carrying street gangs which operate in South London. Many people, even if they spare a thought for these dire circumstances, do little but bemoan hopelessly the way things are. Tony has thought through the situation and tenaciously done something practical about it. As a result, hundreds of young people have been influenced in the past eleven years. He works tirelessly towards this end, both behind the scenes and with his sleeves rolled up on the front line. The festival in its first year alone led to 170 young people enthusiastically joining youth groups in the town.

For a man so intimately involved in caring for those who have died, and their loved ones, Tony Rowland is passionate about making life better for coming generations.