Thursday, July 31, 2014
Friends remember a true journalistic queen for whom words were always king.
TRIBUTES have been paid to former Gazette reporter Jean Woodhams who has died at the age of 84.
The former Fleet Street reporter has been described as a loyal friend and a ‘one off’ by those who knew her.
Whether reporting from an office in London, or from a cramped boiler room in Tuly Street, Barnstaple, it was always words that mattered most to Jean.
As a teenager, she wanted nothing more than to emulate her father Arthur Thain, a racing correspondent on the Scotsman.
After cutting her teeth on the Lewisham Borough News, 18-year-old Jean persuaded the then chief sub-editor of the Yorkshire Evening Post, John Colley, to give her a break in the big league.
John, now 90, said he saw an immediate ‘spark’ when Jean approached him at a village fete and asked for a job.
“I asked her how keen she was to work and she replied ‘I don’t care how hard it is, I want to do it’,” he said.
Jean became the Post’s London correspondent and went on to become the editor of the women’s page during her 20-plus year career at the paper.
Jean and husband John moved to Barnstaple in 1968 to set up their own van hire firm and Jean returned to journalism in the early 80s when she joined the North Devon Gazette.
Dave Tanner, editor at the time, said: “Jean was fiercely loyal to the Gazette.
“Her reports were always accurate and concise – she would never use 10 words if two would do.
“She was probably the most respected journalist in North Devon of her day. Everybody knew that if they told Jean something, she would report it accurately.”
Jean’s reporting helped secure more than £1million for the North Devon District Hospital Scanner Appeal, and she was instrumental in the establishment of the North Devon Animal Ambulance.
Jean also helped forge stronger ties with Barnstaple’s twin American town of Barnstable.
After retiring from the newsroom at the age of 70, Jean continued to do her bit for Barnstaple by volunteering at the Shopmobility Centre.
But it was words on the page that were king until the very end.
After striking up a friendship with author Avril Stone, Jean edited six books on local history – working on the latest right up until the day she died.
“Jean shared all her knowledge of writing with me; she was a very loyal friend – a one-off,” said Avril.
Jean requested no funeral but a memorial gathering will be held at the Barnstaple Hotel on Thursday, August 7, from 2.30pm.