'Respected and loved' - former Guardian deputy editor Georgina Henry dies aged 53

Former Guardian deputy editor and launch editor of the Comment is Free section of its website Georgina Henry has died of cancer aged 53.

She started her journalism career as a reporter on Broadcast magazine before joining the Guardian as media correspondent in 1989. She moved on to become deputy features editor under Alan Rusbridger and then became his senior deputy editor after he was made editor in 1995.

In Henry’s Guardian obituary, Rusbridger said: “I had come to rely deeply on Georgina's judgment, energy and directness.”

He said: “Numerous colleagues came to value her warmth, approachability and speed of action. She was a great problem solver, a buster of inertia, a tornado of getting things done.

"Nothing was ever done, or believed, by halves. Leader writers knew to expect challenge and restless interrogation from Georgina, ever curious and always as well-read as anyone in the room. There would sometimes be heated arguments when she believed the Guardian was being mealy-mouthed or – over intervention in Bosnia, for example – just wrong. She was intensely political, but never ideological. She could be deeply upset when she thought her paper had mis?stepped. But never for long: the clouds would melt away and she would soon be gossiping and joking over a drink.”

She was a founder member of women in journalism, together with Rebekah Brooks (then Wade) and Eve Pollard, in 1994.

Times executive editor Roger Alton worked with Henry at The Guardian and said: “She was immensely warm and funny, as well as straight and true as an arrow. She was a brilliant and committed journalist. All those who knew her would say that their lives were immeasurably improved by her presence and companionship.”

In 2006, inspired by the success of the Huffington Post in the US, Henry became launch editor of The Guardian’s Comment is Free website.

After a year as editor the site had attracted some 1,600 contributors.

She told Press Gazette: "I thought of it in a classic print journalist sort of way, as a top-down operation – as a way to extend what we were doing in print.

"Of course the thing that gets you every time is that what we do as journalists is only the beginning. The response, the discussion it provokes – the way we've developed this community of posters has been completely eye-opening to me."

Some Guardian commentators took umbrage at the sometimes abusive level of debate their posts on Comment is Free attracted.

But Henry said: "There are some people who will irredeemably think journalism should be about people who know stuff telling people who don't know stuff – stuff. But that's just not how the world works – there are always people on the blog who know stuff, and have opinions that are worth listening to. That's the joy of it."

In May 2010 Henry became head of culture and at the end of 2011 she became head of digital. Two years ago she was odiagnosed with cancer – an aggressive tumour was found behind her right eye.

Rusbridger said: “Newspaper offices can be hard-boiled places where executives typically win respect rather than love. George was both respected and loved. She was an exceptional person."

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