A pioneering journalist who wrote about the county’s property market, popular television programmes, and the increasing role of women in East Anglian life, has died. 

From running through Norwich with pancakes, to tending to cats in France, Jenny Gilheany led a life filled with fun. 

But she also excelled with professionalism in her media career that will be remembered with fondness by those she worked with. 

Born Jenny Belson in Sutton, near Stalham, in north Norfolk in in 1943, she was one of four children to farm manager Ralph Belson and his wife Lily.  

She attended Sutton primary school, and developed a love of hymns and music at Methodist Sunday school each week.  

Her deep but quietly understated faith lasted throughout her life, and contributed to her caring and outgoing personality. 

Described as “an intelligent girl and a quick learner”, she moved to North Walsham Girls' High School after passing her 11-plus.  

Great Yarmouth Mercury: Jenny Gilheany aged 17

She sometimes talked of becoming a barrister, but journalism was her first love, and she quickly made her mark after joining Eastern Counties Newspapers (ECN). 

She became a junior news reporter at the Great Yarmouth Mercury, where she met and worked with sub-editor Paul Thomas. 

They married in 1968 and enjoyed seven happy years together but due to different longer-term ambitions, they agreed to an amicable divorce. 

She would go on to work in several district offices before transferring to the Eastern Daily Press in Norwich. 

Dominated by men in those days, she quickly stood up against any gender prejudice. 

Here she became the Women's Page editor, producing compelling Mainly for Women columns and gaining a large female readership. 

Great Yarmouth Mercury: Jenny Gilheany

Peter Franzen, EDP editor from 1993-2009, joined the paper in 1970 and formed a long and lasting friendship with Jenny. 

He said: "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.” 

Longtime friend and former colleague, Andrew Harvey, added: "Jenny shared the camaraderie and fun that developed among the junior reporters at the ECN. 

“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.” 

Great Yarmouth Mercury: Jenny Gilheany with her husband James in December 2004

In 1979, a new job took her to London after Vic Birtles, then the head of Anglia Television's press and publicity department, headhunted her to become its drama press officer. 

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. 

In 1991, the family, which now included their six-year-old son Andrew, went to live in rural south-west France. 

The time in France evoked many happy memories, not least the ever-expanding army of farm cats they inherited at their rented home. 

In 1995, they returned to Norfolk. 

As well as becoming involved in publicising new shows at Norwich Playhouse, the following year she became property editor at the EDP and Evening News. 

The mid-1990s saw the local housing scene start to undergo a total transformation, and she reported on the housing revolution in rapidly expanding and popular weekly property supplements.  

Great Yarmouth Mercury: Jenny Gilheany

After 10 years in this role, she finally put her typewriter away in 2006 to concentrate on her shrub-filled city garden off Unthank Road. 

During retirement, she kept in touch with many friends and travelled abroad. 

Her husband described her last few years as “joyous ones”, as they welcomed their grandsons, Aidan and Fintan. 

Jenny Gilheany died on Monday, August 7 following a stroke. She is survived by her husband, son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren. 

Her funeral will take place at St Michael's Church, Sutton, on Monday, September 4, at 2pm, with a reception to follow. 

  • Donations in her memory to RNLI and the British Heart Foundation via https://jennifergilheany.muchloved.com