Obituary: Sarah Baird-Smith

Sarah Mary Ann Hedley, publisher and writer: born Bristol 4 July 1940; married 1975 Robin Baird-Smith (one son, one daughter, and one son deceased); died Salisbury, Wiltshire 8 January 1994.

THE DEATH of Sarah Baird-Smith and her younger son, Archie, as the result of a road accident last Saturday has left the publishing world in a state of profound shock and loss. The wife of Robin Baird-Smith, Publishing Director of Constable, Sarah distinguished herself in the same profession, most notably as a commissioning editor of religious books. She had recently embarked upon a highly promising new career as a writer: at the time of her death she had completed a novel and had started a book for children.

The daughter of a businessman, she was born Sarah Hedley, in an air-raid shelter in 1940. Her parents separated when she was a child, and in 1947 her mother married Sir Regina1d Verdon-Smith, chairman of the Bristol Aircraft Corporation, who became a much-loved stepfather. She was educated at Sherborne School for Girls (once described as the 'potting shed of the English rose'), which she loathed, and at Somerville College, Oxford, where she read English. Her first job in publishing was with the production department of Longman Green, and one of her great skills, apart from spotting potential authors, was in putting books together. She subsequently worked for a number of other publishers and eventually ran Geoffrey Chapman, Cassell's religious imprint. It was here that her own interest in religion was stimulated, and she converted to Roman Catholicism shortly before her marriage.

While bringing up her three children she did part-time editorial work for Collins, and in 1981 took charge of the company's religious division, including the paperback imprint, Fount. She had the prescience to commission books from both David Hope, before he became Bishop of London, and George Carey, before he became Archbishop of Canterbury. Fount was refreshingly non-denominational, and Sarah brought both Rachel Billington and Rabbi Lionel Blue to the list. She also worked closely with Malcolm Muggeridge, but the principal mainstay of the imprint was CS Lewis, whose backlist she assiduously promoted, not least by having the inspiration to commission AN Wilson to write a biography, published in 1990 to great acclaim.

She remained with Fount until January 1989, when she became, for a little under a year, Editorial Director of Darton, Longman and Todd. She took early retirement in order to write fiction and spend more time with her children, for whom she was a devoted, imaginative and tireless parent. Her one novel, as yet unpublished, is a sophisticated comedy set in a religious community. Like many people of firm religious convictions, Sarah had no qualms about treating the subject humorously.

Indeed, one's chief memory of Sarah Baird-Smith is of laughter. Wholly unconventional, she was naturally and unconsciously witty and a rich source of extraordinary stories, which she defied one to disbelieve. There was an understated stylishness about everything she did, characterised by the cheroots she occasionally smoked after dinner.

Her assessment of people was acute but unjudgemental: someone who disappointed her might be regretfully described, in that distinctive deep voice of hers, as 'a fearful pill'; those she found sympathetic became friends at once and for ever. Her 50th-birthday party, held at a packed Travellers' Club in 1990, was an appropriately lively testament to the widespread love and esteem in which she was held.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

East15 Acting School: Finance and Contracts Officer

£20,781 to £24,057 per annum: East15 Acting School: The post involves general ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: A mainstream Secondary school in C...

Austen Lloyd: Practice / HR Manager - Somerset

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A rare and exciting opportunity for a Practice...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company provides global satellite communi...

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks