Clare Swift: Stalwart of 'The Independent on Sunday'

 

Clare Swift, who died from cancer on 23 August aged 47 after a brief illness, was PA to four consecutive editors of The Independent on Sunday, of whom I was the second. I was so impressed by her reliability, efficiency and independence of mind that I later persuaded her to join me in a similar role when I became editor of the New Statesman.

Clare was both respected and loved by all her colleagues. To me, she was indispensable: a calming influence at times of crisis, a peerless office manager, a trusted organiser of hotels, transport, lunches and parties (the last two particularly important to an editor and, indeed, to her), and an unshakably loyal supporter who never hesitated to tell me when, in her usually correct opinion, I was wrong.

She was also a discreet re-writer of intemperate letters I drafted to complaining readers or meddling managers; she had a better command of prose, I often thought, than many reporters. She had a rare skill for handling difficult and temperamental people, particularly disgruntled journalists heading for the editor's office with a resignation letter in their hands. My predecessor as IoS editor, Ian Jack, described her as "a reliably cheerful and calming presence in a newspaper atmosphere that might be neurotic and feverish or depressed and idle".

Clare was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne on 24 July 1966, the elder daughter of Oswald and Elizabeth Bartley. After a peripatetic early childhood – her father worked as a marine engineer – the family returned to the English north-east, where Clare attended St Anselm's Roman Catholic High School in North Shields. She went on to Sheffield University, where she took a degree in Spanish and English. Shortly afterwards, she joined The Independent's advertising department in London before moving to the Sunday paper's editorial section.

She married David Swift, an Independent and later Sun journalist, and with him had two children, Lydia, now 14, and Jerry, now 11, in whom she took great pride and delight. After Jerry's birth she moved back near her family in the Newcastle area, where she worked most recently as an NHS office administrator at Freeman Hospital.

Clare had firm opinions on politics (trenchantly left-wing, she was incredulous and distressed when George W Bush was elected US president in 2000), women's rights and how people should behave towards others. If roused, her anger could be startling. Senior figures in newspaper management, even proprietors, approached her warily, knowing how fiercely she protected editorial colleagues.

To younger colleagues (and some not so young) she was often counsellor as well as friend. A young woman, arriving for a job interview, was told to go home and change into less revealing clothes. She once impersonated a colleague, then abroad and beyond easy contact, responding to a boyfriend's fax that needed an urgent reply. He remembered this fax fondly. Only a few days ago did he learn the true author.

Clare's death leaves a hole in the lives of all who knew her. Memories of her kindness, her radiant smile and her infectious laughter will comfort us.

Peter Wilby

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