Wearing a top hat and dress coat and carrying a cane, the funeral conductor led the hearse, a 1932 Rolls-Royce, slowly around the streets of Bermondsey as thousands lined the route to pay their respects.
It was a role that Barry Albin-Dyer had fulfilled many times – for soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, for the reality TV star Jade Goody, and for countless ordinary people in the south London community he loved.
But this time, it was the much-loved funeral director making his own final journey after succumbing to cancer at the age of 64.
His services were noted for their style, but he was not only about showmanship – numerous mourners spoke of his uncanny ability to help grief-stricken relatives cope with the loss of a loved one.
In his homily at the Most Holy Trinity Church, Canon Alan McLean spoke of how Mr Albin-Dyer had been “almost sanctified” by those who knew him as his “generous heart blessed so many”.
“This man I loved and called brother”, he said, had “given us funeral ceremonies to remember”. And his own funeral – his sons Simon, 38, and Jon, 35, were handed letters containing his wishes shortly after his death – did not fall short of that mark.
The funeral cortège left the offices of F A Albin & Sons just before 10am and slowly processed around a route that took in some of the landmarks of his life: his home, the former ground of Fisher FC, the club that Mr Albin-Dyer supported with money and time, and then to “The Blue”, Bermondsey’s central square.
As the hearse passed, the crowd burst into applause. His son Jon was moved to tears by the public display of affection.
Among those lining the streets was Pat Bygrave, 67, who left Bermondsey about 30 years ago and now lives near Dartford in Kent. She travelled to London to pay her respects to the man whose firm buried at least seven members of her family.
Ms Bygrave said this “lovely, lovely man” and his family – his sons both work at the company – had a special way with grieving people.
“I wouldn’t say you came out of there laughing, but you came out of there feeling better than when you went in because everything was done for you; everything was done perfectly,” she said.
Russell Dryden, 50, a fishmonger with a stall in The Blue, said local people wanted to repay some of the help that Mr Albin-Dyer, a long-time friend, had given to so many.
“The important thing is the family, and the family is grieving. They are going to see all these people and the flowers and it’s going to make them feel a little bit better,” he said.
“We all suffer heartache and grief, but when Albins did your funeral, he had a way of doing it … You can never explain how he made you feel because it’s not an easy job.”
In addition to his work at Fisher FC, Mr Albin-Dyer helped rescue the local newspaper, the Southwark News; set up his own foundation to help local good causes; was a patron of Child Bereavement UK; raised funds for the Evelina London Children’s Hospital; and ran bereavement training days for hospitals and care homes, for medical students and others.
He wrote three volumes of memoirs including Don’t Drop the Coffin (the basis for a TV series) and Bury My Heart in Bermondsey.
For his role in bringing home the bodies of 639 soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan he was made an OBE in 2010, and the company was also given a Chief of the Defence Staff commendation for its work.
In his address, Jon Albin-Dyer told the mourners that his father “was such a loving man with a massive heart and, as his sons, we got to feel that the most.
“I don’t think he could have imagined this amount of people would be here and all over Bermondsey, showing their respects,” he said. “You have all done him proud today.”
And he said the words echoed by numerous others: “He would have loved it.”
Barry Albin-Dyer is survived by his partner Jackie and sons Simon and Jon.
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