Editor of two South West weeklies Zena O'Rourke dies aged 53: 'A true newspaper enthusiast'

Zena O'Rourke

An award-winning newspaper editor who edited two major South West weekly newspapers has died at the age of 53 after a year-long battle with cancer.

Zena O’Rourke was editor of the Cornish Guardian from July 2009 until March 2015. During 2011 she picked up two major awards in a matter of weeks for the title.

Firstly, the Cornish Guardian was named Weekly Newspaper of the Year at the 2011 EDF Energy South West Media Awards then Zena crowned that achievement by collecting the national award for Weekly Newspaper of the Year at the 2011 Newspaper Awards.

Zena was born in Taunton, Somerset, and returned to her home town in April 2015 to take on the editorship of her local paper, the Somerset County Gazette, but had to step down at Christmas last year when her illness took hold.

Starting her career at Star Newspapers in Taunton, she then moved to the Bridgwater Mercury as a reporter, before taking on the role of assistant news editor at the Somerset County Gazette. She was then news editor of the newly-launched Yeovil Express.

From there she moved to the Western Gazette at Yeovil where as news editor, then deputy editor she was a key part of the team producing an award-winning 11-edition weekly newspaper.

From Yeovil she moved to Cornwall to take up her first editorship running the Cornish Guardian, one of the biggest weekly titles in the then Northcliffe Media stable.

Her move to Taunton last year was the culmination of a long held dream to return to her home town paper as editor.

Tim Dixon, who was editor of the Star when Zena first joined the industry and was later her editor at the Western Gazette, said of their time together at Yeovil: “I was extremely lucky to work with her. She was unflappable in the face of intense pressure, resourceful and resilient, at a time when our industry was going through massive changes.

“She also had the keenest news judgement and a wicked sense of humour. The young reporters loved her. She looked out for them and encouraged them. And I valued her support and friendship. She was a true newspaper enthusiast – a great journalist and a kind and generous friend.

“It was no surprise at all when Northcliffe chose Zena to edit the Cornish Guardian. She had tremendous insight, excellent news judgement and a real feel for her readership. She had vision too. She appreciated how newsprint and online journalism could work together.”

Ken Bird, who was her editor at Bridgwater and Taunton, added: “It was no surprise that she became a multi-award-winning editor.

“Zena was an outstanding journalist, but that was only the tip of the iceberg. She was a wonderfully warm human being – bubbling with infectious enthusiasm and razor-sharp wit. A journo’s journo if ever there was one.

“We dubbed her Zena, Warrior Princess, and she was a true warrior right to the end.

“We will all miss her beyond words – but we should all feel blessed that she came into our lives. May she rest in peace.”

The funeral service for Zena will be held at 11am on Saturday 18 June at All Saints’ Church, Holcombe Rogus, Devon. Zena’s wish was that mourners would wear something bright red – in celebration of her favourite colour.

Family flowers only. Donations accepted at the service or sent directly to the funeral directors: H. Tredwin & Son Ld, 15-17 North Street, Wellington, TA21 8LX. Donations will be disbursed to St Margaret’s Hospice and Bowel Cancer UK.

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