Obituary Sheila Gunn: John Major’s press secretary and former Belsize councillor dies

Sheila Gunn

Sheila Gunn - Credit: Archant

A former Camden councillor who served as press secretary to Sir John Major during a distinguished career in journalism and politics has died.

Ex-Belsize councillor Sheila Gunn died after a short illness on Friday, October 17, aged 66.

She made her mark on national politics as the former Conservative prime minister’s press secretary from 1995 until his election defeat in 1997, when she was made an MBE in his resignation honours list.

She later took this experience at the highest level of government into Camden’s local politics scene when she was elected in Belsize ward, where she lived, as a Conservative in 2002. She sat in the council chamber for four years.

Before working as Sir John’s press secretary, she had been a political correspondent with The Times for 15 years.

She later worked for a public relations firm, as a trainer of PR professionals and for last 14 years, as a well-liked lecturer in political journalism and public administration at City University.

In 2011, she published the book So You Want to be a Political Journalist?.

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She was this week warmly remembered by a litany of friends, colleagues and students, many taking to Twitter to express their sadness.

Belsize councillor Jonny Bucknell, who worked closely with her as a ward and party colleague, said: “She was a nice, genuine and sensitive person, and very good at dealing with constituents.

“She was very personable, very enthusiastic and a very good person to have on board as one of your team.”

Swiss Cottage councillor Andrew Marshall said she was a lively and active councillor and a “great deal of fun”.

He also said she would have made a great MP but was never selected to contest a winnable seat, which had been a disappointment in her career.

“Had she been starting out for a seat just a handful of years later on, as things were changing fast for women candidates, I’ve no doubt she’d have got to the Commons and thrived,” he added.

Her daughter-in-law Inger Dybvig said: “Many kind words have been said about her already, but to me I always come back to what made Sheila so unique.

‘‘She was a terrific mix of traditional and rebellious, career woman and doting mother, firm believer in what was right, yet was always able to see the other point of view.

“She was a riveting storyteller and told the most interesting anecdotes, yet she was always interested in what was going on with everyone else as well. She was a great listener.”

She is survived by her two children and two grandchildren.

Born in Birmingham, she settled in Glenloch Road, Belsize Park, in 1997 and lived there until 2013, when she moved to the Cotswolds.