Obituaries: Linda Perry

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EVERY OXFORD generation has its Zuleika Dobson and Linda Simmonds was the Zuleika of hers. As an undergraduate, she was so beautiful that young men would stop her in the street, blushingly thrust a poem into her hands and hurry on, not daring to speak.

Tall, with waist-length black hair, a perfect olive complexion and enviable figure, she was nicknamed Pocahontas by some of her more waspish colleagues at St Hilda's College; but the comparison was apt. She dressed with great style and, at a time when every young woman slavishly followed the fashion for chalk pink or pure white lipstick, Linda chose never to wear lipstick at all.

She was a genuine original, not only in appearance. She possessed a quality rare in a young woman - or girl, as she would have been called in those docile, pre-feminist days - a dazzling wit that could build verbal castles of conjecture and metaphor. At a time when it was thought the height of brilliance to mimic the Goons' catchphrases or memorise Tom Lehrer's satirical ditties, Linda Simmonds's wit was always and entirely her own. The men who humbly paid court on account of her beauty often found themselves disconcerted by her ability to make them laugh.

She was born in south London in 1939, the daughter of a commericial artist, and attended Bromley High School - a Girls' Public Day School Trust foundation - from where she won a place at St Hilda's to read Politics, Philosophy and Economics. Within a year of coming up, however, complaining that PPE was boring - as indeed it often was - she switched to Geography, in which she took a Second.

During her first summer term she and Paddy Perry, a young economist and rowing man from Magdalen, fell in love. Linda, who had competed at Junior Wimbledon, was also an outstanding tennis player and Paddy found to his chagrin that, despite his own athletic prowess, he had to play flat out if he wanted to beat her. The two soon became the focus of their social and intellectual circle, along with Margaret Callaghan and Peter Jay (who were friends rather than rivals). Few things in later life surpass the brief glory of having ranked among Oxford's "golden couples".

Linda and Paddy were married in September 1961, three months after coming down. Paddy had been offered a job with the IMF in Washington, so their honeymoon was spent crossing the Atlantic on the Flandres, at the IMF's expense. Linda made full use of her talents when, at the age of 23, she was appointed Education and Cultural Attache at the British Embassy, where she worked on the Fulbright Scholarship Programme under the then ambassador, Lord Harlech.

On their return to England four years later, she and Paddy settled in London. Their first child, Thalia, was born in 1968; then two sons: Alex, in 1970 and Luke in 1973. In 1965 Linda had joined the advertising agency J. Walter Thompson, where she worked on several highly successful accounts. After the birth of her third child she resumed her career there in September 1975.

But in 1978, after 17 years of marriage, Linda and Paddy divorced and she never remarried. She bought a spacious if somewhat eccentric top-floor flat overlooking the Thames at Putney, among whose former occupants had been the writer and critic J.R. Ackerley and his famous Alsatian dog, Tulip. Here Linda lived with her younger son (until he went up to Magdalen to read History) and her beloved cat, Nelson. She stayed at JWT, rising to become a board director - one of the first women appointed to this level - until the end of 1987, when she left to set up her own market research company, Linda Perry Associates.

Linda Perry was an enthusiastic traveller with a particular love for India. She had spent several weeks this March travelling independently through Kerala and planned another visit next year. At the time of her death she was about to go to France to stay with a friend whom she'd known since they were pen-friends in their teens. It was typical of Linda's warmth and loyalty that she could sustain a friendship for nearly 45 years. Her main interest in life was always other people, above all her three children. Her loyalty to friends was constant, dependable and unchanging. Those who only knew her as a young girl will recall her beauty; but those who knew her for longer will chiefly remember her warmth and wit.

Her sudden death at the age of 59 came as a tremendous shock. After spending a cheerful evening with friends, she died in her sleep of a heart weakness that no one, including Linda, even knew she had. One former admirer of hers said, on hearing the news, "Now my youth really is over."

Linda Philippa Simmonds, advertising executive: born London 24 October 1939; married 1961 Paddy Perry (two sons, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1978); died London 15 May 1999.