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Journalist who ‘stood up’ against newsroom sexism dies aged 79

A journalist whose work helped boost the number of women reading a regional daily has died aged 79.

Tributes have been paid to Jenny Gilheany, pictured, who served the Eastern Daily Press and other East Anglian newspapers during her career.

While with the Norwich-based daily, she served as women’s page editor and wrote ‘Mainly for Women’ columns.

According to an EDP obituary by Donna-Louise Bishop, Jenny “quickly stood up against any gender prejudice” in the newsroom and led to the newspaper “gaining a large female readership”.

Jenny Gilheany

Peter Franzen, who joined the paper in 1970 and went on to serve as editor from 1993 to 2009, told the EDP: “When I joined, Jenny was one of the very few female journalists in the mainly male-dominated newsroom.

“Such was the culture then that, when she once came to work in a trouser suit, she was politely told to go home and change because her attire was ‘unsuitable’ for a woman. She always held her own against such prejudice and proved herself with her writing skills.”

Colleague and friend Andrew Harvey added: “Jenny shared the camaraderie and fun that developed among the junior reporters at Eastern Counties Newspapers. She was always game for a bit of fun and it was her idea to organise a fancy dress race through the streets of Norwich one Pancake Day evening.

“About six of us gathered at her flat in City Road, pooled our frying pans, cooked the pancakes and set off down London Street in high spirits, straight into the beat of the local police.”

Born Jenny Belson in Sutton, near Stalham, she started out as a junior news reporter at the Great Yarmouth Mercury.

At the Mercury, she met sub-editor Paul Thomas, her first husband, altough the couple agreed to an amicable divorce after seven years “due to different longer-term ambitions”.

Jenny went on to work in severla ECN distric offices before moving to Norwich with the EDP.

She remained there until 1979, when she was headhunted to become Anglia Television’s drama press officer in London.

During this time, she also co-authored The Giant Panda Book with her second husband James Gilheany, on the back of which they were offered a chance to study cheetahs in Africa.

The couple moved to France in 1991 with their six-year-old son Andrew, but they returned to Norfolk four years later.

The following year she became property editor at the EDP and Norwich Evening News, a role she would hold until her retirement in 2006.

Jenny, who died on 7 August following a stroke, is also survived by grandsons Aidan and Fintan. Her funeral was held last Monday.