Alison Brady, PA to newspaper editors who became lynchpin of The Herald operation

Born: September 16, 1956;

Died: October 1, 2022.

WHEN older journalists gather to reminisce, the talk is of absent colleagues and renegade deeds in a golden age. Ever prominent in their rheumy reflections are the names of a small band of women who worked as departmental secretaries or personal assistants to the editors of the day. These titles never adequately described what they contributed in the daily churn of these ocean-going liners of the old print trade.

They were formidable, clever and sharp and were often a salvage operation of last resort when their chaotic colleagues were daily jeopardised by their own disorganisation and delinquency. As editors and executives came and went in an unforgiving trade, often it was they who maintained a newspaper’s continuity and its sense of itself.

Theirs were the faces you first encountered when stepping over a newspaper’s threshold and they would be there at the end when it was time to leave, offering a haste-ye-back or a consoling hug if your departure had been less than consensual.

Among the very best of them was Alison Brady, who has died at the age of 66 after a short illness. She worked with five Herald editors and was PA to three of them before leaving to pursue opportunities in PR and event management for which her extensive list of contacts was well-suited.

Her newspaper career proceeded in an age when most of the major Scottish titles were at the peak of their influence, achieving record sales figures. The newsrooms which generated their energy were sprawling and noisy crucibles offering a home to dysfunctional people whom other sectors would have considered unemployable.

Alison was in the middle of it all, an organisational genius who brought maximum efficiency to her role and brooked no nonsense from any travel firms, restaurants or hotels seeking to take liberties. Ian Bruce, The Herald’s former geopolitics editor and NUJ rep, said: “Alison was brilliant at her job. She was at her best when big breaking news stories required several people to be mobilised at the one time. She was the organisational hub of the paper. If it wasn’t for her, some jobs wouldn’t have been covered.”

Mark Douglas-Home, the last Herald editor who worked with her, said: “She was a wonderful colleague who was very good at her job and never anything other than professional and diligent. But she was a lot more than that too: funny, friendly and a big character. One of the many bonuses of editing The Herald was working with her.”

Alison Brady was born Alison McKechnie in Partick in 1956 before her family, including her brother Ronnie, moved to Scotstoun. On leaving school she lived and worked as an au pair in Toronto for a few years before returning to take a college qualification and train as a PA.

Her family was steeped in Scotland’s newspaper tradition. Her dad Farquhar had been a legendary chief photographer of the Daily Express when that title was a serious player in the trade and the most formidable newspaper operation in the UK. Her brother and two of her uncles also worked in the printing and production arms of The Herald in their old locations on Albion Street and Cowcaddens.

Alison’s first job at the old Glasgow Herald, after a spell at the Evening Times, was as newsdesk secretary and it was her positive attitude and organisational gifts which caught the attention of the then editor, the late and celebrated Arnold Kemp, who made her his PA. She continued in this role with Arnold’s successors, George McKechnie, Harry Reid and Mark Douglas-Home. All four were towering figures in the Scottish newspaper industry and all of them benefited from Alison’s work ethic and efficiency which one former executive described as “incredible”.

You learned not to take any liberties with Alison Brady, but her kindness touched many distressed colleagues. One former Herald executive tells of intercepting a call to Alison’s phone while she was on her lunch-break. The call, from an irate reader, rapidly turned sour. Profanities were traded in a heated exchange before Alison appeared and called a halt by telling the inexperienced young staffer: “You must never speak to our readers in that way, no matter what the provocation.”

Duly chastened, he retreated into his office. The following day there were flowers on his desk and a card which read: “… but thank you for standing up for us.”

She was there through the best of times for The Herald and, along with her colleagues on the secretariat, was treated as an equal by the journalists who worked with them. She became the focal point for the paper’s social life too. She knew all the top restaurant owners and publicans and was thus able discreetly to fish out wayward hacks in an age before mobile technology. Ian Bruce said: “She rescued pets; rescued people and helped find jobs for them. She couldn’t do enough for anyone. It felt like we were all her family.”

Several years after she departed The Herald she was still helping former colleagues stay in contact with each other by organising re-unions. “She always did her best to keep those she cared about in touch, right up until a few months ago,” said another former executive.

In recent years Alison befriended the California-based Scottish singer-songwriter, Angela McCluskey, travelling to meet her and see her perform in New York. She would become friends with both her and her husband, the celebrated film and classical composer, Paul Cantelon who has composed a piece for her funeral.

She also held a special affection for Greece, which she returned to annually with her partner of 17 years, the journalist Bill Caven, who paid tribute to her warmth and kindness.

“She had an incredible ability to link up with people. She was a force of nature, but so very kind with it. Even in the final days and months of her illness she was still dispensing advice and help on social media.

“I’ll treasure some special memories of time spent at our holiday home on Rhodes. She got to know everyone in the village and all their own family connections. There she’d be with a cigarette and a vodka and away she’d go. I’m still expecting her to walk through the door at any minute.”

Alison’s funeral will take place on Monday, 17th October at 3pm at the Hurlet Crematorium near Barrhead, East Renfrewshire.