Kate Carr: former editor, Sunday Times Magazine

Kate Carr approached her premature death with the cool elegance and determination that had characterised her life. A talented journalist, she became editor of The Sunday Times Magazine but later left journalism to found a support organisation for cancer sufferers.

Although she rebelled against the idea that her life would be defined by illness, she also believed that having been given the gift of communication it was her duty to use it to dispel some of the myths surrounding the disease.

The last year of her life was spent working on an unsentimental and clear-sighted analysis of what it is really like to live with cancer. Not only to live, but to live well.

She was always immaculately turned out; appearance was important to her, even during the ravages of chemotherapy. She disdained the wigs she was offered, describing them as: “Farrah Fawcett from her Charlie’s Angels period or Thelma’s brushed forward helmet in The Likely Lads. All in shimmering synthetic.”

Instead she wore a little velvet smoking cap by one of her favourite designers.

Kate grew up in Romford, Essex, in a family that esteemed books and learning. She progressed from grammar school to Warwick University, where she immersed herself in feminist politics and joined the protest at Greenham Common. She also met the love of her life, Simon Cobley.

After graduating in English and American studies, she worked briefly for the socialist magazine The Leveller, but also as an assistant in the South Moulton Street boutique Browns, seeing no contradiction in this. An accomplished needlewoman, she understood the work that went into designer garments and regarded them as art to be respected and admired. In the early stages of her career she would save up to buy originals including a much-loved dress by Jean Muir. Prada and Issey Miyake later became favourites too.

But even when she was on a Fleet Street salary – and long before vintage clothes became fashionable – she would scour charity shops for pieces she could make over.

Mass-produced fashion did not interest her. In the last stages of her illness she still wore the antique nightdresses she had lovingly laundered and restored.

Her first break in mainstream journalism was as an editorial assistant on Good Housekeeping. She started out making the tea but quickly worked her way up through the ranks before becoming arts editor on the young women’s title Company.

From there she was head-hunted to become deputy editor of the Looks section of the Sunday Times. Despite her lack of newspaper experience, her progress was rapid.

Quiet and unassuming, she nevertheless made an impact on the editor, Andrew Neil, who promoted her to managing editor in charge of the Style, Arts, Books and Travel sections of the paper.

She was barely into her thirties when she became the first woman to attend the editorial conference.

Sue Douglas, who arrived at the paper after her, remembers that Andrew Neil used to call her “Mother” because she treated every member of staff as if they were family.

She was particularly keen to nurture other women, but in truth anyone and everyone came under her wing. Later the soubriquet Mother became even more appropriate when after the births of each of her children, she became the most senior woman on the paper to take maternity leave, which was still regarded as something of a career setback in the early nineties.

Despite having young children she put in long hours, as the sections she produced went to press late on Friday night. She also launched the first colour newsprint section, The Culture. And when in 1993 the chance came to re-launch and edit The Sunday Times Magazine, she leapt at it.

Although she held some of the most high-powered jobs in media, Carr had no interest in the accompanying social life. Her circle of friends was small and close-knit. Her greatest pleasure was to get home every evening to her partner and her babies.

Weekends at their cottage in Shropshire were also sacrosanct.

By 1997 she was working for Associated Newspapers on the Mail on Sunday and earning – in her own words – more money than she had ever dreamed of. She seemed to have it all.

But then she discovered a lump in her right breast. She was only 39, too young for it to be anything sinister.

The first doctor she saw said it was mastitis and prescribed evening primrose oil. But the lump didn’t go away.

Finally she saw a consultant and this time the diagnosis was poor. She had a particularly aggressive form of cancer.

Throughout her treatment she was determined to remain working.

When Paula Reed, a former colleague from the Sunday Times, approached her with the idea that she should set up and run the first cancer support centre (known as Gilda’s Club) in the UK, Carr refused. She wanted to move away from the cancer world, not become a part of it.

Instead she joined Eve Pollard, who was setting up a new woman’s magazine, Aura. But Reed persisted and in 2002 Kate felt sufficiently recovered from her own experiences to be able to take on the job of executive director.

When Gilda’s Club ran out of funding after a year, Carr returned to freelance writing and editing and became books editor of Good Housekeeping.

In 2002 she had her five-year check-up and was given the all-clear.

To her own amazement, she burst into tears. After years of living one day at a time, the thought of a future filled with possibilities was overwhelming.

It was this realisation, combined with her knowledge gleaned from working at Gilda’s club, that gave her the idea for her book, It’s Not Like That, Actually about what it is really like to live with cancer. It is published this month by Vermilion, an imprint of Ebury Press.

Just before Easter this year, while she was working to finish the manuscript, she was increasingly troubled by back pain and was admitted to hospital just after completing the final chapters.

Scans revealed that the cancer was back with a vengeance. In April, after 26 years together, she and Simon were married. Her book was published the day after she died.

Her husband, her son and her daughter survive her.

Kate Carr, journalist, was born on 10 August, 1957. She died on 15 September, 2004, aged 47.

Reprinted with permission from The Times

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