The past fourteen years have seen many positive changes in the activities and organization of the Society and our Executive Officer, Sarah-Jane, has played a major part in all of this. So it came as quite a shock to me when I first heard that she was leaving Angel Gate.
My immediate thought was: how would the Society manage without her steadying hand on the rudder? I know that my term of office as General Secretary/President would have been so much more difficult without her guidance and support. For example, just reading the minutiae of legal documents, which is not my forte, was always an easy task for Sarah-Jane. Her planning and organization of the AGM, annual report and committee meetings were performed with the precision of a military exercise. This expertise was of considerable benefit to the efficiency with which the Society office operated, as it is not normally associated with most of the offices that I have come across in scientific academia including my own!
The Society AGMs were a true testament to her efficiency. Each annual meeting was carefully orchestrated such that each of the presenters was provided with a detailed script, containing not only when they should speak, but also what they should say. This was crucial because there have been many changes to our constitution during the past 14 years and whenever the Articles of Association have required alteration the precise wording is important.
Our constitution underwent a major overhaul when we changed our charitable status about 12 years ago from the equivalent of a local amateur football club to a company limited by guarantee. This required an incredible amount of administrative work with Sarah-Jane providing much of the expertise necessary not only to make the change but also to understand what was required of members and, particularly, officers of the Society. It seems easy for us now to simply say that we are a company with our details lodged at Company House, but to maintain this status requires vigilance to make sure that we are acting in a legal manner. Normally this would be the responsibility of a Company Secretary. In our case it has been the Executive Officer, Sarah-Jane, who has made sure that we have kept on the ‘right side of the law’.
Sarah-Jane joined the Society office at a time when we were just making the change from each officer having secretarial support in his or her own departments to having a communal Society office. The first Society office was at Charterhouse Square in a rented portacabin on the St Barts Medical College campus. It was here that Sarah-Jane set up her first office for the Society.
It soon became apparent that the Society should own its offices and it was this that prompted the purchase of 16 Angel Gate, our current office, which was not only for the administration of the Society but also to provide a home for the editorial office of the British Journal of Pharmacology. The acquisition of Angel Gate and the smooth transition from Barts was in no small way due to Sarah-Jane’s input.
Of course, the efficiency and function of any office is influenced by the relationships and mutual respect of the individuals within the group and this is largely dependent on the conduct of the senior person. Sarah-Jane was a model leader in the Society office and was respected by all.
But surely, I hear you say, there must have been some chinks in her armour, or certainly some anecdotes from these past 14 years when she has made errors or been embarrassed by events. I have been trying to recall any such calamities but without success, although she did manage to mount the ‘No Smoking’ sign at Angel Gate the wrong way up, and because to correct it would have required redecoration of the wall it remained for 10 years. Only now, with the total refurbishment of the offices, has this memorial been removed!
Of course, each of our scientific meetings during the year demands a lot of activity by everyone in the office and for Sarah-Jane it was always a time for coordinating and minuting many of the Society’s committees which convene during the meeting.
She would always make sure that I, for example, had all the information required for any session. In particular, she would always manage to obtain a transcript of any speech that was to be given by the host at a civic reception to which it would be necessary for us to respond. On one occasion I remember the Society was the guest of a town council north of the border. The Mayor (or equivalent) welcomed us to the city with a speech at a reception. Sarah-Jane, earlier that day, had requested and received a fax of the mayoral speech. Knowing the contents of this enabled me to prepare a few relevant words for a response that evening.
We met the Mayor in his chambers just prior to the start of the reception and as we left the room an associate handed him his speech. After the first few words I knew that he had either changed what he wanted to say or that he had been given the wrong speech. It soon became apparent that the latter was the case, as he clearly was welcoming a completely different group. This was especially apparent when he went on to say that ‘it was so good to see such a large group of Japanese delegates’! But this did not deter him from continuing to read from the prescribed text, which became more and more irrelevant to us. Of course, by now I had difficulty in keeping a straight face and had certainly discarded any hope of saying what I had intended as a response. I thought afterwards that if he only had the support of a Sarah-Jane his life would have been much smoother, as I imagined that this might not have been the first time that such a mistake had been made.
So it just leaves me to say to Sarah-Jane, on behalf of colleagues in the Society, very many thanks for all the work that you have done for us and best wishes for your future endeavours.