Farewell to Isabel — looking back on eight years at Poppy's

Isabel Potter | Poppy's | London funeral directors

Four minute read

After eight phenomenal years at Poppy’s, our Head of Operations, Isabel Potter is leaving. Poppy reflects on the early days together, Isabel’s legacy and how working with death helps us navigate change and loss.

I owe such a debt to everyone who has taken a leap of faith by joining Poppy’s over the years, and none more so than Isabel. Isabel read about Poppy’s in Stylist magazine in 2012 when we were four months old. When we met, I remember feeling struck by her seriousness and commitment to what I was building. Meeting Isabel raised my game about what could be possible at Poppy’s.

At that time I was on my own with this work - both intimidated by what I had taken on and excited about what was ahead. I was also so young! I was 27 and I badly needed committed, brilliant colleagues to share the highs and lows with. I remember our early conversations being a whirlwind of excitement, potential and rightful caution.

Within a fortnight of our meeting, Isabel found a day a week to help out at Poppy’s. I remember many very early mornings together — once driving to Luton to collect someone who had died who needed to be in Devon. We scoped out possible Poppy’s premises together — I recall bacon sandwiches in railway arches.

I look at the emails that flew between us over those months. I came across as full of energy and a bit unhinged. I know I was riding a continuous adrenaline surge, a kite flying across the sky in a high wind.

Isabel was different: enthusiastic, committed, reliable. Anchored in herself — clear, boundaried and exactly what Poppy’s and I needed.

Isabel Potter and Poppy Mardall | Poppy's | London funeral director

Isabel joined Poppy’s as our first employee a year later. Those early years were spent supporting and advocating for our clients, both the living and the dead. Isabel is the person you want by your side when the chips are down.

She was in her element speaking to grieving people who wanted and deserved great care. When you got through to Isabel you knew you were in the safest, most loving hands.

Isabel’s character — warm, reliable, practical, professional — shaped what Poppy’s was to become. Whether developing the vision behind our service, recruiting team members or fighting for improvements in the sector at large, Isabel has been the anchor keeping us grounded at Poppy’s. Carefully balancing our ambitions with a commitment to doing what we say we will, and doing it well.

In her eight years at Poppy’s Isabel has had two children (and I’ve had three). I am deeply proud of the way we, and other crucial lynch-pins at Poppy’s, have supported each other to combine our families and our personal lives with this intense, beautiful, demanding work.

It’s not easy to set and keep boundaries in place when you’re both working on the frontline and building a company together. I’m certain we haven’t always got it right, but I know we’ve learned a lot along the way.

I have particularly rich memories of building our first coherent corporate strategy together alongside Kate Brewer, and of the five tremendous people we recruited in the wake of that work. Isabel and I must have interviewed about forty great people in a fortnight. It was exhausting and exhilarating in equal measure.

I won’t ever forget the feeling of sitting next to Isabel with her red lipstick and jaunty colourful earrings, full of energy and excitement about the journey we were on and the privilege of growing our team to come and do it with us.

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In taking the time to look back and recognise the journey we’ve been on together, I celebrate Isabel’s legacy. I’m so grateful for her. I’m cheering for her — for who she is, what she has given and what she will go on to give. And working with death also teaches me to stay open to the harder feelings. I know what we are losing. This is a loss and this is grief I am feeling. I am sad about what is coming to an end and I’m emotional about moving Poppy’s forward without this woman.

Change is a type of death — it is natural and it is also unthinkable. I know it is healthy and right to give in to these feelings. That feeling this grief is the reflection of the love we’ve poured into this work together and what we’ve built together.

At Poppy’s, we’ve often thought of our growth as if we were making a soup — adding spices, simmering, blending, evolving this beautiful thing to see what it might become. Isabel has been the co-creator of this soup and she leaves it full of richness and delicious promise.

She has been a natural champion of people — of grieving people, of the dead and of those of us working hard to look after them both. She has taught me, and all of us at Poppy’s, how to care for one another, and how to work with integrity and passion. She has been the most remarkable team-mate and leader to all of us. And she has been a great personal friend to me.

So I’m celebrating and I’m grieving. I’m basking in the great memories and I’m reliving some of the hard times. I’m proud of the past and I’m excited about the future. I’m waving Isabel off with the confidence that wherever she lands next, great bounty will flow and good times will be had. And I know that when I hug her goodbye I’ll be struggling to let her go.

Read more about Poppy's story: why I became a funeral director and discover what it's really like working in a mortuary.

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