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Former weekly editor dies aged 53 after year-long cancer fight

Zena imageAn award-winning weekly editor who was forced to leave her dream job due to cancer has died after a year-long battle with the illness.

Zena O’Rourke, left, former editor of the Cornish Guardian and the Somerset County Gazette, passed away on Friday at the age of 53.

She edited the Guardian for six years until leaving in April 2015 to fulfil a long-held dream of editing the Gazette, her hometown paper.

However as her illness took hold, her stay at the Taunton-based weekly proved short-lived and she stepped down in December.

During Zena’s time at the Cornish Guardian, it won a number of awards, including being named paid-for weekly newspaper of the year at the EDF Energy South West Media Awards in 2011.

She then crowned that achievement by collecting the national award for Weekly Newspaper of the Year at the 2011 Newspaper Awards

After starting her career at Star Newspapers in Taunton, Zena moved to the Bridgwater Mercury as a reporter, before taking on the role of assistant news editor at the County Gazette.

She was then news editor and then deputy editor of the Western Gazette before moving to Cornwall to take up her first editorship.

Tim Dixon, who was editor of the Star when Zena first joined the industry and was later her editor at the Western Gazette, spoke warmly of their time together at Yeovil.

“I was extremely lucky to work with her. She was unflappable in the face of intense pressure, resourceful and resilient, at a time when our industry was going through massive changes,” he said.

“She also had the keenest news judgement and a wicked sense of humour. The young reporters loved her. She looked out for them and encouraged them. And I valued her support and friendship. She was a true newspaper enthusiast – a great journalist and a kind and generous friend.

“It was no surprise at all when Northcliffe chose Zena to edit the Cornish Guardian. She had tremendous insight, excellent news judgement and a real feel for her readership. She had vision too. She appreciated how newsprint and online journalism could work together.”

Ken Bird, who was her editor at Bridgwater and Taunton, added: “It was no surprise that she became a multi-award-winning editor.

“Yes, Zena was an outstanding journalist but that was only the tip of the iceberg. She was a wonderfully warm human being – bubbling with infectious enthusiasm and razor-sharp wit. A journo’s journo if ever there was one.

“We dubbed her Zena, Warrior Princess, and she was a true warrior right to the end.

“We will all miss her beyond words – but we should all feel blessed that she came into our lives. May she rest in peace.”

Zena’s funeral service will be held at 11am on Saturday June 18th at All Saints’ Church, Holcombe Rogus, Devon.

In keeping with her wishes, mourners are requested to wear something bright red in celebration of her favourite colour.

Donations in her memory will be accepted at the service or can be sent directly to the funeral directors; H. Tredwin & Son Ld, 15-17 North Street, Weillington TA21 8LX.

The donations will be split between St Margaret’s Hospice and Bowel Cancer UK.


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  • June 15, 2016 at 9:19 am

    Terribly sad. As I’ve said before though, trite as it possibly sounds, I like to think journalists live on through their words.

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  • June 15, 2016 at 10:22 am

    A great journalist and a truly lovely person. She will be sadly missed.

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  • June 15, 2016 at 10:25 am

    so sad to lose someone from the profession who still loves her job, under such tragic circumstances.

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  • June 15, 2016 at 2:13 pm

    A great journalist with an even greater personality and a wicked sense of humour – her death will greatly sadden everyone who knew her, but I know that she battled the cancer with amazing determination and dignity in true Zena spirit and fashion.
    RIP Zena. Another one taken far too young, but will always be remembered…….

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  • June 15, 2016 at 4:40 pm

    Whenever I submitted to Western Gazette she invariably printed as typed. Never atered a word. A lovely, lovely lady. R.I.P

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  • June 15, 2016 at 7:50 pm

    It was a privilege to be Zena’s sports editor at the Cornish Guardian.
    She was always very supportive, a good journalist, but more importantly, a lovely person.
    For an editor, that is unusual.
    Rest in peace Zena. You will be missed – glad we met along the way.

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  • June 15, 2016 at 8:47 pm

    She was one of the funniest people I’ve ever met, a joy to work with and I feel privileged to be able to call her a friend.
    Sweet dreams Zena.

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