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11th August 1941 – 3rd April 2016
On Thursday, 8th September, 2016 at 11:30am a service of thanksgiving for the life of Gillian O'Connor was held at St Bride's Church, Fleet Street.
The Revd Canon Dr Alison Joyce delivered the bidding:-
We are here to honour the memory, and to give thanks for the life, of a woman to whom so many in the world of financial journalism owe so very much, and in so very many ways.
Gillian O'Connor's gifts as a writer, editor, and mentor both informed and inspired a generation of leading journalists in her field. She was a woman of extraordinary intelligence, renowned for her astute judgment and dry wit; but also a woman of immense kindness and generosity of heart.
As we celebrate her life today, we give thanks for her remarkable contribution and commitment to the world of financial journalism; we remember with thanksgiving her gifts as an incisive and perceptive writer and editor; a woman who was an inspiration and a mentor to so many; we remember a woman of great courage and conviction, giving thanks for her razor-like wit; and for her generosity of spirit. We remember also a woman who loved animals, and took such delight in her garden.
Sir Richard Lambert, Former Editor, Financial Times
Editing a magazine about personal finance is a very tough job. Half your journalists would rather be writing about something else. Politics. Sport. Wars in the Horn of Africa. More or less anything, other than unit trusts.
A surprisingly high proportion of the other half of your staff are either anarchic or eccentric, or both. If they weren’t half mad, they would be over in the City making five times as much as you could possibly afford to pay them.
Your editorial managers are probably incompetent, and almost certainly venal. They want you to publish things that will please the advertisers. In their view, the readers can look after themselves.
And then there are the readers.
Who on earth are they? And just how many have dropped off the perch this week?
Given all this, how is it that a quarter of a century after she left the job, Gillian O’Connor still stands out as an outstanding and much admired figure in her trade?
The starting point is that she was a brilliant talent spotter. Dig into the CVs of the best financial journalists of a certain age, and you will find that an amazing number got their first break from Gillian. A good few of them are here in the church today.
On her watch, the Investors Chronicle became a place where ambitious young people went for a few years, got house trained, and stepped off on the pathway to the stars.
And it wasn’t just about hiring bright kids. She was good at managing talent of all kinds; liberal and easygoing in her approach, once she had decided you were any good. So the eccentrics flourished.
People like John Campbell, the author of the Bearbull column, who – in Bernard Gray’s words –regularly let himself into the office at 2am on deadline day and leaving only a perfectly finished column on Gillian’s typewriter and a dense cloud of blue smoke at his desk to mark his passage.
And behind that formidable exterior, there was a streak of mischief about Gillian herself. Michael Brett, who preceded her as editor and is very sad not to be with us today, tells the story of how she was supervising the final stages of production one day in the late 1970s, when news came through to the printers that Mrs. Thatcher had forced through a one pence cut in the basic rate of income tax.
At the last minute, Gillian shoved in a picture of Mrs. T on the contents page and a headline: “Maggie’s penny slash”.
All hell broke loose, and Michael found himself explaining to an infuriated Central Office that the person responsible for this outrage was a delicately nurtured young lady who had not been aware of the double entendre in the headline.
Gillian was beholden to no-one.
She would always back up her journalists, once they had earned her trust. At the right moment, if they were sad or in difficulty, she was thoughtful and kind.
But she didn’t suffer what she perceived to be fools. Stories of her bust-ups with management were famous in legend and song for years after the left the publication. She knew whose side she was on – the consumers, not the producers of financial products.
And she knew what her readers wanted. Clear and straightforward copy. Logical analysis. Conclusions that made sense, and that could lead to practical investment action.
Financial journalists often resort to jargon if they don’t really know what they were talking about. They could never get away with that for a second under Gillian’s steely gaze. And the result of all this was that the circulation of the IC rocketed to unmatched highs under her editorship.
So it was a great day for the Financial Times when she agreed to take over our personal finance columns, something which she did with great flair for several years.
And then she announced more or less out of the blue that she would like to do something completely different before she retired.
So it was that this person who had been deskbound for 30 years or more found herself as mining editor, bouncing along ice roads in Canada, or crawling around miles below ground in Botswana.
As with everything else, she did the job with style, judgment and integrity.
A lot of good journalists owe a great deal to Gillian O’Connor.
And for this and many other reasons, it is right that we think about her today, with respect, admiration and with warmth.
Lucy Kellaway, Columnist, Financial Times
One winter’s day in 1984, having done the rounds of the male city editors of Fleet Street and been rejected by all of them, I turned up at Greystoke Place to be interviewed by Gillian O Connor at the Investors Chronicle. The offices were revolting - with cheap partitions, filthy cups and towers of yellowing newsprint. The walls were a marbled yellow, stained by nicotine that dripped down them. In the corner of this squalour, in a cubby hole with a view of a graveyard, sat Gillian, wearing velvet trousers tucked into high heeled boots, with short hair - just like Mia Farrow. I can't remember what she said, which may be because she hardly said anything. Gillian was great at silence. I suppose I babbled away and she looked on, vaguely ironic. Occasionally she would have done this gesture. For Gillian smoking was performance art.
That meeting changed my life. She gave me my first job in journalism. And I found out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to be Gillian O Connor.
In the years since then I’ve thought and written about women leaders. Gillian had it all.
For a start she was terrifying. Not in a horrid bullying way. I never heard her raise her voice or say anything nasty. What she did was irony. She did haughty.
She promoted women and men equally. Never before nor since have I worked anywhere that was not only so gender blind, but everything blind - Gillian's tolerance of weirdos was second to none. She employed the young and the ancient. She didn’t object to a colleague who was entirely nocturnal or another who had unfortunate personal habits. Anyone was welcome as long as they could write.
And if they couldn’t she showed them how.
Gillian herself was a formidable journalist. Fearless, with brilliant judgement and fiercely intelligent. Her writing was sharp and simple. She taught me the most valuable of lessons - simplicity. Never overestimate the intelligence of your reader. Every week I would quake as I took my copy to her to be read. She would light another cigarette - never mind the fact that there were two already burning in the ashtray - sometimes she would give beautiful smile. “Y-es,” she would say when she’d finished. It was high praise from her.
Gillian stood up for us. She fought budget cuts imposed by managers. She defended us to the companies who hated what we’d written. There was one time when a furious banking chief phoned incensed by an article supposedly written by Bernard Gray . She held the receiver like this as he yelled. Then she put it down on her desk and had another ciggie or two. Then when the shouting subsided a bit she picked up the receiver said in her sweet imperious way that Bernard hadn’t written the article - and hung up.
Most of all Gillian was mysterious. We knew nothing about her life outside the office. We didn’t even know what she lived on. I don’t think I ever saw her do anything as vulgar as eat - later when she bought a pristine flat in Notting Hill, a visitor who visited her there six years after she moved in reported that the oven still had its plastic wrapper on it.
Above all she did things her way. At some point in her sixties, with an eye to what might occupy her during retirement she took up riding, and as befits someone so elegant she hit on dressage. Sometimes she would come limping into the FT office having tumbled off one of her Iberian stallions. Gillian could even limp with style.
Before giving this talk I asked around the many IC writers for stories about Gillian. Someone remembered a time when a young writer had written a piece about Norman Tebbit, only spelled his name throughout with a double T. The proof was sent off to the printer uncorrected - most unusual as Gillian usually checked everything herself - and the question arose what to write on the cover. She was in no doubt. She knew IC readers (under her editorship readership went up five-fold) and she knew what they valued most in the world was consistency. So she repeated the mistake on the cover.
I heard this story some thirty years later with a sick feeling of recognition. That careless writer was me.
When, after a couple of wonderful years at the IC, I left to join the Financial Times, Gillian came to my goodbye party - as she always did to the parties of the scores of young people who she spent two years training only to lose them. As usual she turned up early, had an orange juice and then scarpered. But before she did she said to me: “I warned them not to hire you. You are the worst speller who has ever worked for me.” She gave her enigmatic smile. Was she teasing? It was impossible to know.
Neil Bennett read 1 Corinthians 13
13 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
Richard Bridges read From Letter to a Young Clergyman by Jonathan Swift
I should have been glad, if you had applied yourself a little more to the study of the English language, than I fear you have done… Proper words in proper places, make the true definition of a style. But this would require too ample a disquisition to be now dwelt on: however, I shall venture to name one or two faults, which are easy to be remedied, with a very small portion of abilities.
The first is the frequent use of obscure terms, than which I do not know a more universal, inexcusable, and unnecessary mistake, among the clergy of all distinctions, but especially the younger practitioners. I have been curious enough to take a list of several hundred words in a sermon of a new beginner, which not one of his hearers among a hundred could possibly understand…
I know not how it comes to pass, that professors in most arts and sciences are generally the worst qualified to explain their meanings to those who are not of their tribe: a common farmer shall make you understand in three words, that his foot is out of joint, or his collar-bone broken, wherein a surgeon, after a hundred terms of art, if you are not a scholar, shall leave you to seek. It is frequently the same case in law, physic, and even many of the meaner arts.
I am the more earnest in this matter, because it is a general complaint, and the justest in the world. For a divine has nothing to say to the wisest congregation of any parish in this kingdom, which he may not express in a manner to be understood by the meanest among them.
It would be endless to run over the several defects of style among us; I shall therefore say nothing of the mean and paltry (which are usually attended by the fustian), much less of the slovenly or indecent. Two things I will just warn you against; the first is the frequency of flat unnecessary epithets, and the other is the folly of using old threadbare phrases, which will often make you go out of your way to find and apply them, are nauseous to rational hearers, and will seldom express your meaning as well as your own natural words.
Although, as I have already observed, our English tongue is too little cultivated in this kingdom; yet the faults are nine in ten owing to affectation, and not to the want of understanding. When a man's thoughts are clear, the properest words will generally offer themselves first, and his own judgment will direct him in what order to place them, so as they may be best understood. Where men err against this method, it is usually on purpose, and to shew their learning, their oratory, their politeness, or their knowledge of the world. In short, that simplicity without which no human performance can arrive to any great perfection, is nowhere more eminently useful than in this.
(with apologies to Jonathan Swift)
Alex Frean read Prospero’s Speech from The Tempest by William Shakespeare
The choir & organist of St Bride's performed the following anthems and songs:-
Beati quorum via - Stanford
Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen - Brahms
Let it be - Lennon/McCartney arr. Jones
Waterloo Sunset - Davies arr. Morley
Alleluia - Mozart
Immortal, invisible, God only wise
Dear Lord and Father of mankind