Janet Girsman – Journalist in Spirit

BY LIZ SAUL

This weekend was the 2nd anniversary of the passing of the journalist, publicist and genealogist, Janet Girsman – a Country Squire Magazine investigator and writer – my mother. She died on June 11th, 2020, mostly because her cancer treatment had been paused during the first lockdown. 

At least I was able to be with her, being classed as a key worker myself and despite Covid restrictions.

As the CSM editorial written at the time will tell you, Janet was a crusader, a campaigner and an excellent researcher. She would stand her ground against all sorts of people and companies and almost always get the desired outcome. She investigated politicians, companies and even found time to trace our family tree back as far as 1608 and a chap by the family name of Barnet who arrived in London from Northern Italy and went to lecture in Oxford.

I strongly feel Mum is still around in spirit. She continues to make her mark in various ways. Sometimes it’s mischief; sometimes it’s reassuring and sometimes, importantly, reminding her friends and family that she is still having an impact. 

In the months after her passing, no less than two utility companies went bust – the very same which mum had been wrangling with since 2018 over their inability to provide a proper and accurate electricity or gas bill! Then a researcher contacted me about a book that a well-known and experienced journalist was writing. They had been told Janet had done extensive research on various politicians and wondered if I had in my possession her private papers. Being somewhat cynical – yes, I am a journalist myself – I researched this person to see that they were genuine in their query and then contacted the journalist directly. It turned out that he already had the information he needed as mum often published without by-line – happy to let the main journalist take the credit. When I checked her papers on the subject, she’d carefully tucked the published articles alongside her notes on them. This made me smile. She was all about getting the Truth out there, never worried about taking the credit.

Janet’s reputation reaches far and wide and like other women in the family, she’s a trailblazer and takes no prisoners. 

Mum’s MP was often the source of frustration for her. Dominic Raab is the current Justice Secretary. Before that, Foreign Secretary and for a short time in 2018, the Minister responsible for “exiting the EU” – the latter arguably his saving grace as far as Brexiteer Janet was concerned. I think they secretly enjoyed their jousting at the twice-yearly public meetings he hosted in the constituency. It was at one such meeting, where he admitted he wasn’t across all the details of the EU, ahead of the referendum. He graciously accepted mum’s superior knowledge on the finer points of Article 50 for example and in an email to me ahead of her memorial event last year, he acknowledged, among other things, her considerable effort with the Leave campaign. 

I am regularly in touch with many of mum’s friends, who tell me they know she’s still around as they’ll be alerted to something on TV or radio, which catches their ear – and they all tell me the same thing:

I immediately think of Janet and what she would have to say about that!

The Editor of this magazine, as he, among other things; faces a court case against Chris Packham, often tells me he has Janet in his ear, pointing him towards yet another sliver of useful data or smoking gun.

I think mum must be mastering kinetics! I told her she needed to in order to get my attention sometimes – or help with the housework (I hear her laughing at that as she was never that keen on it in physical times). She had a great sense of humour.

Idiosyncrasies – toothpaste tube squeezed from the middle (my bugbear) or empty toilet rolls (her bugbear, “the toilet roll fairy has been” ) – and when I see them now I chuckle. This helps with the grieving process.

Both the Chief Rabbi and Archbishop of Canterbury say everyone’s grief journey is different – even if you are mourning the same person. They did a joint social distance interview in December 2020 about it for the BBC, which, should you be going through the same or similar grieving process, you can access here: BBC News – Grief: Archbishop Welby and Chief Rabbi Mirvis reflect | Facebook| By BBC News | To mark National Grief Awareness Week, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, discuss loss and the impact grief has had on… 

Mum would always send greetings for major festivals or anniversaries to “those of all faiths and none” – she has her faith (as do I) but we’re more spiritual than religious and that serves us well. It helps me to deal with the practicalities of her passing – and to honour her wishes. As a woman, I have been able to lead her prayers at her funeral and stone setting, and read the eulogies. Something which historically does not happen in the Jewish religion, especially among the more Orthodox communities. Neither Janet nor I were ones for toeing the line!

Yes, we all miss her. But Janet is still here in spirit.

Liz Saul is a broadcast journalist for the BBC. These views are her own (or Janet’s!) and not of the Corporation. Liz’ YouTube channel can be found here.