For a generation of City reporters, Gillian O’Connor was the matriarch who defined their trade. As the long-serving editor of the Investors Chronicle, she selected her trainees in penetrating, wry interviews, schooled them with martini-dry ironic wit, then released them as fully-fledged financial reporters to the dissipating community that had been Fleet Street.
O’Connor, who has died aged 74, was an elegant stylist who nurtured writers such as Lucy Kellaway of the Financial Times and Robert Peston, now at ITV News. Such was the strength of her bench that the Wincott prize for young financial journalist of the year took up near permanent residence at the weekly during her time.
For someone so apparently upright and reserved, with a touch of Miss Jean Brodie in her manner, she was liberal and easy-going with her team once she trusted them.
John Campbell, the near-nocturnal owner of the Bearbull stock picking column, regularly let himself into the office at 2am on deadline day and left only a perfect finished column on Gillian’s typewriter and a dense cloud of blue smoke at his desk to mark his passage. She did not mind, she loved his copy.
This mixed thread of establishment rectitude and laissez faire lifestyle was woven through her life. She attended Sutton High School and St Hilda’s College, Oxford, reading Greats (classics), and would twinkle with pleasure if anyone gave the degree its correct title, Literae Humaniores. Yet while at university she spent much of her time with a backgammon-playing liberal set that included Tariq Ali, just before his championing of anti-Vietnam marches in London.
As editor of Investors Chronicle from 1982 to 1994, she presided over a big revival in the magazine’s fortunes, trebling its circulation in her first five years in charge. Her insistence on great writing and her determined cultivation of an evergreen youth squad made the IC, part of the Financial Times group, a great success.
Towards the end of her career she joined the FT as personal finance editor. Her keen eye for what made an investment gem and what constituted an unholy scam served her readers well. Mining was her last beat and a woman who had been office-bound for 30 years was seen on trucks up the ice road in Canada, in helicopters over Kalgoorlie in Western Australia, miles below ground in diamond mines in Botswana and on dubious trains with sinister handlers in Siberia.
Born on August 11, 1941, O’Connor is survived by her brother Piers. In retirement she devoted much time to the Citizens Advice Bureau where, as she did throughout her life, she gave freely of her expertise to those in need.