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Obituary: Lynne James

Lynne James The University learnt with much regret of the death of Lynne James on Tuesday, April 9, 2002, following a short illness. Lynne joined the University in September 1998 as the first Director of Marketing

LYNNE JAMES (1959-2002)

You never know how much you’ll miss someone – until they’re gone. This truism uttered at a packed funeral service for Lynne James hardly seems comprehensible – such is the sense of disbelief that Lynne has been taken away from amongst us.

Amid the feelings of loss, devastation and desolation that have surrounded her sudden and untimely demise there is still a strong sense of thanksgiving – epitomised by the service- for the life that was Lynne’s.

For those who met her just the once to those who knew her intimately, Lynne left a legacy of love, kindness and genuine concern. She was a people person. You warmed to her immediately and she took you to heart.

Marketing was almost a dirty word before the arrival of Lynne James at the University of Leicester in September 1998. The University was in the throes of trying to create ‘a culture of marketing’ on campus – addressing issues ranging from logos to partnership agreements.

With her private sector background, there were many who feared the impact of this new thinking on the traditional ‘way things are done’ . Those fears were ill founded.

Lynne was a breath of fresh air. She breathed new life into the logo, polished up the image and identified the ‘key messages’ and ‘brand values’ – concepts that were so alien before she arrived but are so familiar now. Her indomitable spirit, charm and perseverance meant that even the hardest nut cracked – particularly after she had plied you with chocolates - until we were all singing from the same hymn sheet.

She was instrumental in influencing and changing many lives and, as recounted at the service of thanksgiving for her life at St Giles Church, Medbourne, on April 19, Lynne believed passionately in people.

Lynne James at  University This picture of Lynne was on view in the church on the day of the funeral

 

[pic: Janet Graham]

Born in Croydon, she attended Southampton University where she gained a degree in Sociology in 1981.  Before joining Leicester, she had experience in marketing across four diverse sectors and had also worked in international markets. She came to Leicester after working as  Marketing and Business Development Director and Deputy Chief Executive at Solotec – the South London Training and Enterprise Council.

Her mother, unable to attend the service owing to hospital treatment, recounted through a letter read out by Lynne’s sister at the service in church that Lynne wanted to move away from the lucrative world of private industry to a sector where she could be of genuine help to people.

Apart from her commitment to charities and worthy causes, Lynne was in her element within the university sector- surrounded by young people and helping to open up opportunities for others in education. If she was not perfecting the programme for open days, she might be engaged in focus groups to ensure the university’s materials were primed to meet the needs of the ‘target audience’.

For Lynne was first and foremost a marketeer. She was extraordinarily good at her job. She demystified the subject and divested it of its jargon so that, with a few simple measures, we all began to make improvements in the way we worked.

If it were only to ensure we got the name of the University right –University of Leicester – through to brokering the most sensitive institutional agreements, Lynne’s personality and professionalism proved to be a potent mix.

I remember the occasion when a distinctly unhappy and demonstrative member of the public remonstrated with us about a particular problem. While many of us were cowed into submission, Lynne let this irate individual vent his spleen before holding his hand and asking for his suggestions! Before long, our opponent was ‘sharing the vision’ – she had managed to engage him in discussion which moved forward in a constructive rather than confrontational way.

In her marketing and other workshops she was always devising new ways of getting the material over, from comparing the University to the Big Brother household to using Blind Date to illustrate how the University could describe itself in the best way for applicants. For those that joined in or got the right answer they were always thrown a chocolate bar or lollipop.

Her consummate professionalism manifested itself in the portfolio of pamphlets, brochures, manuals and reports that poured out of her office. She busied herself by visiting departments, holding workshops, networking and socialising. For so passionate was Lynne about her work, that the borders between the two crumbled. Her table-tennis tournaments and quiz nights were as much a team-building exercise as a jolly good opportunity to let your hair down and have a good time! True to her character, the events were always great fun.

She regularly attended the University Wine Club, and at the dinners was always at the heart of the noisiest table. She had a great sense of fun and, on one occasion, ‘set up’ a senior member of the University by arranging for a muffin with a candle to be brought in at the end of a Wine Club dinner and getting everyone to sing Happy Birthday.

Lynne was a brilliant networker and helped to engender a sense of community at the University of Leicester evidenced by – if ever proof were needed –the representation at her funeral service which left the church with standing room only. People from all walks of life attended the funeral, reflecting another facet of Lynne’s appeal.

Her love of people and her genuine concern for them was a great leveller. Porter or professor – titles mattered not. It was you as a person she was interested in and there was more to her ‘How are you’ than a passing interest. Lynne cared - and often was the occasion when marketing sessions ended up righting your world, if not the world! She was a great team player and, in a group meeting, she always homed in on someone who was not getting involved and helped them to join in.

With her characteristic expressions –‘Keep the faith’, ‘How are we team’ and ‘You’re a poppet’ – meetings with Lynne were always light-hearted, jovial yet extremely professional and effective.  Her raucous laughter and wicked sense of humour made her a joy to work with. Being the action woman that she was, she was keen to get things done and she became renowned for working all hours. Lynne’s motto seemed to that nothing was a problem – it was always a challenge or an opportunity.

Working alongside her, we were all too aware of how committed and conscientious she was. Had she not such a vibrant and fun-loving personality, work would have seemed to be all she lived for – but in fact she rarely let it get on top of her, and she always made time for a drink with colleagues after work, for heading down to the senior common room, to almost every inaugural lecture, or getting home to be – as she sometimes said - ‘the corporate wife’ for her husband Tony’s guests.

Lynne enjoyed good food, fine wine, antiques and took an active part in village activities in Medbourne, particularly in raising funds to refurbish the children’s playground.

She loved to travel, having jetted off to remote corners of the world with Tony - often the most dangerous places on earth as her mother put it - with a sense of verve and adventure that symbolised her spirit. It was her abiding love for Tony that helped to keep work in perspective  - and it was the strength of their union, along with the Christian message of hope – that came out so strongly at the church service. Tony’s tribute testified to how Lynne had changed his life beyond recognition – the same could be said of her impact on the University.

A distinctive and remarkable feature of Lynne was her ability to see the good in others – often not perceived by the individuals themselves! She always played to your strength. Despite her formidable intellectual prowess, she never belittled others and brought out the best in them. She instilled you with confidence, made you believe in yourself and your contribution to the University. She thought about her colleagues – and their friends and families. She would empower colleagues and inspire them to do things they may not have thought they could do. More often than not, you emerged from a meeting with her feeling good about yourself.

I am incredulous writing about her in the past tense and, like many across the University, am numbed by the loss of such a valued colleague and caring friend. She touched the lives of many with love and laughter. Her many acts of kindness have been recounted in the tributes that flowed to the Marketing Office and where a single sunflower delivered to her PA Madeleine Hurst seemed so aptly to summarise who she was – a genuine ray of sunshine.

No tribute to her could encompass the totality of her personality or contribution – she genuinely was larger than life. Her door was always open - a welcome was always there. She was never at a loss for words and even if she did not have time, she made time for you.

Lynne’s memories will live on in the lives of all who knew and loved her – her legacy is up in lights, enshrined in the corporate identity that illuminates the campus entrances, welcoming all to the University of Leicester.

Ather Mirza

Author's note: I am indebted to the support, input and advice of Lynne’s dear friend and colleague Janet Graham in the writing of this tribute.

Donations in memory of Lynne are for the Walsgrave Neurological Trust and may be forwarded to the funeral directors: J Stamp and Sons, The Chestnuts, Kettering Road, Market Harborough, LE16 8AN.

May 2002

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