Judy Hillman

A true artist

Judy Hillman, 85, a stalwart and much loved member of the Drawing London sketching group, was taken ill while hanging an exhibition of her own work for the Primrose Hill Art Trail in her local library on Saturday, August 1. She was rushed by ambulance to the Royal Free Hospital but sadly died following the insertion of a stent.

Revealingly, in a recent recorded chat with a friend and photojournalist Mimi Feunzalida,  on how Judy had found the Covid-19 lockdown, she said: ‘I don’t like to think of myself as an artist’.

Judy at home: Mimi Feunzalida June 2020

She clearly did not enjoy the enforced seclusion as she happily recalled how in normal days she would work as a volunteer at her library, go into London, attend a lecture or take part in a life drawing class and then lunch at the Athenaeum Club once a week. She would also often have someone in for supper.

Judy with sketch of St Martin in Fields: Mimi Feunzalida June 2020

Judy continued: ‘I’ve been here in Primrose Hill 50 years. Yes, wow, that would be 1970! I didn’t raise a family. I was a journalist for years which I enjoyed so much and I never really had time to get involved with people. I was involved with the world.’

And so she was. Judy engaged avidly for over five decades in her chosen journalistic career, first with a trade magazine Public Works and Muckspreader, Woman, The Evening Standard, The Observer and The Guardian.

Her speciality at The Guardian was as planning correspondent and thanks to the paper’s archive service it is possible to still come across Judy’s output. In a memorable piece published in March 1970, called ‘London glamour masks fading quality of life’, she described how signs of ‘an urban  malaise’ could be detected and ‘most Londoners know that the common place of life gets increasingly difficult and exhausting.

‘New families continue the exodus to a life beyond the green belt. More open space is nibbled off for roads. Planes bellow their way into Heathrow airport London. The crime rate has risen. Bad development proceeds apace.’

Artistry of another sort, a way with words.

Judy’s origins clearly contributed to this truly artistic person. Born in Seaford, on the Sussex coast, with an elder sister Rosalie, now 91, the girls were evacuated to Canada in 1940 on the Duchess of Richmond – the ship which followed was torpedoed.

If not a precise version of ‘Anne of Green Gables’, life was full of the great outdoors; they learned to ski and skate. They went to a small and, according to Rosalie, ‘very good’ school at Rockcliffe Park, a suburb of Ottawa. Summers were spent at a cottage – without toilet or running water — in Larrimac in Quebec. Rosalie’s daughter, Anthea, explains that Judy was actually researching a book on the evacuee experience and by the time of her passing had accumulated a lot of material.

But back they came to Sussex where father had survived both the battle of El Alamein in Egypt and the bombing of his solicitor’s office in Seaford. Mother had spent the war in the Wrens.

Both girls initially found life in England to be comparatively restricting. After attending Brighton and Hove High, Judy won a scholarship to Roedean School and eventually became Head Girl. From there she went to St Andrews University to read economics and moral philsosophy. Meanwhile older sister couldn’t wait and emigrated back to Canada to become a layout journalist, eventually moving to New York, for more magazine work and to marry her husband, Ian Michaelson-Yeates.

Judy quickly got into journalism too and in a significant move joined the Bow Group, a Conservative think tank launched by Geoffrey Howe MP in 1960.

Judy got on well with Geoffrey and Elspeth Howe, often making up a bridge four at their home. This led to her being invited to join them at their gorgeous villa in the south of France for several summer holidays during the ‘70s and ‘80s, and where there was more bridge while Geoffrey ‘worked’. Rosalie chuckles appreciatively as she remembers Labour’s Denis Healey’s description of a political attack by Howe ‘like being savaged by a dead sheep’.

Throughout her life Judy had the misfortune of suffering from a debilitating condition called Epstein-Barr. This was related to glandular fever and would keep coming back, on one occasion causing her to stop work for a year.  She kept her struggles private and managed her energy output carefully, invariably turning up for Drawing London sketching events a little late but always managing to find the group with a cheery smile no matter how obscure the chosen venue.

Judy’s professional life focused on St Katherine’s Dock, London Docklands and Cardiff Bay and she authored three reports for the Royal Fine Arts Commission. By virtue of a friendship with one of the environment ministers Judy was co-opted onto the Royal Parks Review Group for a five year spell. Other obligations came from working with the London Advisory Committee of English Heritage and the urban parks advisory group of the Heritage Lottery Fund. She was a patron of Friends of Regents Park and Primrose Hill until her demise.  

One of her early ‘splash’ stories for the Evening Standard came about following a taxi journey via the Hyde Park Corner Underpass. She noticed the vehicle was suddenly inundated with water from above and following enquiries with the driver and others she established that the River Fleet had been inadequately contained during construction and was causing mayhem.

Primrose Hill was a much loved locale for Judy, as she said in her interview with Mimi in June this year, ‘It’s terribly good here, as good as it gets. We’ve got local shops, we’ve got Camden, reasonable tube and bus connections. It’s wonderful!’

Judy’s picture at Kenwood made on a recent visit with the North London members of Drawing London

Judy was a very popular and highly valued member of Drawing London. She was indeed an accomplished artist and I remember with gratitude how she tried to encourage me to stick with a particular style of painting. After various attempts to reinvent myself her insistence, I now know, is absolutely correct! Thanks Judy.

Judy sat for Marion Wilcocks at the Drawing London Barbican Exhibition in 2018

Judy Hillman, journalist and artist, born September 9, 1934; died August 1, 2020

Marcus Oliver

*Judy is survived by her sister Rosalie Michaelson-Yeates, niece Anthea Stevens, nephews Tony and Julian, and two first cousins, one great-nephew and four great-nieces.

Judy’s sketches with Drawing London from 2008 to 2020