Terry Cooper shares little-heard stories from the Chamber as she retires
As we bid a bittersweet farewell to Terry ahead of her retirement, she shares some highlights - and low-lights - of her colourful career at the Chamber
A lot happened in 1987. Construction on the Channel Tunnel began; a hurricane hit the South coast of England, Terry Waite was kidnapped. But while the airwaves were filled with ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ and ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’, a young secretary was beginning her long career at what is now the UK Chamber of Shipping.
Terry Cooper had tried to join the Merchant Navy after leaving school, but her only options were becoming a nursery nurse or stewardess. Times have indeed changed. Instead, after spells at Babcock and Wilcox, Terry joined the General Council of British Shipping, working first as a secretary in the Marine Division and for the deputy Director General, before eventually becoming PA to the Director-General.
Since then she has worked for six Director Generals (or CEOs) and 29 Presidents.
“We used to post everything by mail so we needed a huge post room. Each letter needed a carbon copy and we used crank shaft printers. At that time we had 125 employees so there was paper everywhere! Being part of the continual modernisation process since then has been hugely rewarding.”
Since those days the Chamber has moved offices five times – one such move caused by the IRA bomb that destroyed the Baltic Exchange in 1992. Terry remembers the event vividly.
“It was of course a horrible experience. The building had been razed to the ground; the night porter and two others were killed. My office had gone from the first floor to the cellar in a matter of seconds.”
The aftermath of the bomb is recorded in a photograph of Nick Hunt, the then DG, stood on the rubble the following day. The photograph is still displayed in the current UK Chamber offices in Park Street.
“Funnily enough, though, it brought about a huge teamwork effort to get us back up and running. Edmund Vestey had loaned us some empty office space and it needed to be organised and turned into a functioning office. We ended up for the first time working in an open-plan environment, which while commonplace now was seen as ultra-modern and quite revolutionary then. Sir Nick Hunt arrived on the first day with chocolates and plant pots for each desk.”
It was during the following year that she began working on the Battle of the Atlantic Commemorations, specifically helping veterans find each other after 50 years.
“I remember one story particularly well. Two men who had become good friends whilst serving on a Royal Navy ship during the battle, had been forced to jump overboard when their vessel was torpedoed. They both spent the next 50 years wondering if the other had survived. Helping them find each other and meet after all that time was such an honour.”
But it was Terry’s work supporting the development of the Maritime Labour Convention that she remembers most fondly.
“The MLC is really a Bill of Rights for seafarers. It’s made such a huge difference not just to British seafarers but to people across the world. I provided support to the Employer’s Group at the International Labour Convention in Geneva during that process. It was a great experience; we were all working together towards something that really mattered and I’ll always look back on that with a sense of pride.”
After 31 years Terry is now retiring, leaving her home in Kent and moving with her husband Dave to Somerset. The whole UK Chamber team thanks her and wishes them both a very long and happy retirement.
“I’ve met some wonderful people, and had some great times. I want to thank the UK Chamber and everyone I’ve ever worked with. I wish the Chamber every possible success in the future, and I’ll check in on the website every now and then whilst sipping prosecco in my new garden in Somerset to see how you’re getting on!”
Terry’s successor, Shirley Rice has already taken up her new role.