Furniture firm mourns former chairman

A PROMINENT East Anglian businessman who became the fourth generation of his family to take the reins at the family's highly successful furniture-making firm, has died at the age of 79.

A PROMINENT East Anglian businessman who became the fourth generation of his family to take the reins at the family's highly successful furniture-making firm, has died at the age of 79.

Alan Alston took over as chairman and managing director of Alstons' upholstery division following the death of his father, Leslie, in 1976.

In 1979, he took on the cabinet division as well, after his brother, Rex, decided to step aside.

His commitment to the furniture making industry was reflected in his involvement with the Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers, where he occupied the role of Master from 1995 to 1996, and his 35 years' involvement with the British Furniture Manufacturers' Association, where he became president from 1990 to 1992, and was awarded the unique accolade of honorary life membership.

Work and family life were the twin focuses of his life and he dedicated himself to both. He married Patricia Hadley in 1957 and the couple had two sons, John and David.

The second son of Leslie and Lila Alston of Sudbury, he was educated at Sudbury Grammar School and spent happy hours in his youth on the River Stour building boats and rowing with the local club.

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He began his career in furniture at the age of 16 in 1946 when he became an apprentice upholsterer at Rayments in Colchester. In 1951, he began his national service. He was stationed in Kenya and was promoted to the rank of acting sergeant.

On his return to the UK, he rejoined the family business, and, true to his family's strong work ethic, continued as chairman until last year. During the 1960s the business expanded with a new purpose-built factory in Colchester.

Today, the �35million turnover business, which is divided into a cabinet-making factory in Ipswich and an upholstery arm making three-piece suites Colchester, employs around 400 people.

His son, John, said: “His pragmatism, dedication and simple understanding of human nature ensured that all the companies under his control continued to survive and prosper for the next 25 years. He was proud that he never stopped working all his life.”

It was only this year, after 60 years in the industry, that the effects of his chronic illness prevented him from coming to the factories any longer.

He is survived by his wife, two sons and four granddaughters.

A thanksgiving service to celebrate Alan Alston's life takes place today at 3pm at St Gregory's Church, Sudbury.