Today is the funeral of our PA Valerie.
She worked for us for 15 years, and rode the roller coaster of the business as we experienced boom and recession, sale and acquisition, changes in the team and three office moves.
When you are entrepreneurs in a small company, the role of the Personal Assistant goes far beyond the standard expectation. Val joined us when my daughters were 1 and 2, so they feel that they have known her their whole lives. They often used to come to the office after school to do "homework club" in the meeting room.
Val managed my diary, and as I am a full time working mum, that meant that she had to fit in not only my work appointments, but also parents evenings, hairdressers, hospital appointments - and mesh my diary with my partner (we run the business together) so that only one of us was away overnight. She meshed these arrangements with those of our nanny, the school, and a series of au pairs - all of whom loved her to bits. She was great at dealing with clients, and could manage the complicated diplomacy of scary PAs with ease.
Over the years we have employed a lot of young people - first and second jobbers - who were all fiercely smart but not always so long on life experience. Val was a wise sounding board for these people, and kept in touch with most of them many years after they had moved on to other roles.
As far as my own career has been concerned, I would not be where I am without Val. She was calm and kind, and had excellent insight into what makes people tick. She was the kind of PA who knew when to send an email, and when to hold on to something I had dictated down the phone in a rush between meetings, bringing it up the next morning, saying "I thought you might want to make some changes to this before you send it?" I could always rely on her tact and discretion, and her unwavering support.
Despite our messy lives spilling over from home into work, Val was always professional, undertaking her role in a formal, old-school way. There are not many PAs left like this now. She never came out for coffee or lunch with me, saying that I did not need to thank her for doing her job. She was just about to retire, and we were planning to have coffee every week after that.
As it turned out, she didn't quite make it to retirement. Nonetheless, she had trekked the Atlas Mountains, travelled the world from Istanbul to Everest Base Camp and went out walking with her dog and her husband Philip at every opportunity. She loved the natural world, her animals, all the wildlife around us. When she was looking after our mad Bengal cat, she bought him a tin of sardines every day.
She would have hated not being able to get out in the fresh air, stride up a mountain, fly off to explore an exotic corner of the world. So I am glad she was not ill for a long time, and that she did not continue to suffer, as she was very poorly at the end.
If you are one of the people who did business with our company, or worked at Larch, or dropped by the office, you will know what a cornerstone Val was. She was a lovely lady and we will all miss her very much.