WHEN I took up the post of Insurance Ombudsman in 1989, one of the established Legal Assistants in the Bureau was a cheeky, cheerful woman who bounced about jollying along colleagues, claimants and companies alike with an infectious mixture of compassion and common sense. Two years later Jane Woodhead was, at the age of 37, herself appointed as Building Society Ombudsman - the first female ombudsman in the private sector. An effective conciliator, an eminently fair adjudicator and an attractive publicist, her reputation and her future seemed near fulfilment. But her life was blighted by tragedy.
Although born in London, Jane Angus spent her formative years in Rhodesia, her father being the Registrar of the University College of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (now the University of Zimbabwe). The family came home in 1967. Jane attended Beaconsfield Girls' High School, where she was head girl, took a Law degree at Bristol University, and trained as a solicitor. She married Donald Woodhead, a civil engineer, spent a couple of years in Nigeria and returned to England for the birth of a daughter, Alexandra, in 1983, then a son, Douglas, in 1984.
Her career recommenced at the Insurance Ombudsman Bureau in 1983, as one of the three Legal Assistants of James Haswell, the original Ombudsman, with a promising future as the grievance business grew. But devastation hit. In 1986 her son Douglas drowned but was saved: badly brain-damaged, he lived, much cherished, for another four years. Despite her overwhelming grief Jane Woodhead's determined, optimistic personality prevailed. Another daughter, Sophie, was born in 1988 and in 1989 she became Senior Legal Officer to the Building Societies Ombudsman with such outstanding success that in 1991 she was appointed an Ombudsman in her own right.
Cancer had been diagnosed in 1990. Severe treatment, both surgery and chemotherapy, was suffered with a courage and hope that deserved to win. All the while Jane Woodhead worked - office, writing, meetings; she was an active delegate last October at the fifth International Ombudsman Institute's Conference in Vienna and only last week was planning to attended the UK Ombudsman Association's Conference next November in Birmingham. A textbook for conveyancers concerning insurance, under my editorship, but through her efforts, was near completion. In the end, however, she lost: she died in hospital with shocking suddenness in the early hours of last Friday.