London Montage

Loraine Histed MBE

Having been born, educated and lived in London for virtually all my life it was natural that I should work in London too.  Following ‘A’ levels I decided to go to secretarial college and the Langham Secretarial College just off Park Lane in the centre of London seemed to fit the bill.  The college had modern typewriters (both manual and electric) and a range of courses from company law to book-keeping and of course shorthand. I felt I would have a good grounding to launch a secretarial career. Diplomas followed and I joined the IQPS in 1974.

A good start of 3 years in a government (Defence) department followed by the excitement of working for a year in Australia gave me good experience.  Upon returning to the UK I was easily able to find temporary work – one placement turned into a 29 year permanent job.  This was with what was then the Ministry of Overseas Development (I worked at a PA in the Engineering and Architectural Division).  The name of the department has changed over the years and I know you are now very familiar with the latest name and building – DFID in Palace Street.

After 3 years with the Engineers I was asked whether I would be interested in working for the Permanent Secretary (the head of the Ministry).  I said I would.  It was a very busy and demanding job.  I was UK-based but the “Perm. Sec.” travelled the world to our overseas offices.  Many of my friends and colleagues were based overseas at different times so I had the opportunity to visit them on holiday … but I always managed to get to our local office to talk to the secretarial teams there.  I have happy memories of India, Bangkok, Nepal and Barbados – and of course, not forgetting the other half of HQ in Scotland!

I worked for six consecutive Permanent Secretaries – all very different and each bringing something new to the job. Working in a private office meant never quite knowing what the day would bring or what time you would get home at night!  Organising formal occasions at work and at other key buildings including Chevening and Lancaster House; sitting in on Select Committees at the House of Commons; being in constant contact with Whitehall and all that entails made my job, I would say, one of the most interesting secretarial positions in government.  I had the privilege of meeting some important people – Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan, Royalty and the occasional ‘celebrity’ such as Bob Geldof. In 2005 I was awarded the MBE presented to me by HM The Queen.  It was a day to treasure, especially as my father came over from Australia to share it with me.

In 2004, I left the Permanent Secretaries office to return to security – still within DFID.  This was a non-secretarial position but the skills and experience gained over the years are never wasted!  The opportunity for early retirement came up in 2008 and I “went for it”.  I took some courses in holistic therapy and practiced at DFID until recently giving it up to make more time for the Honorary Secretarial (part-time) post I had taken on for the DFID Alumni Association.  Upon “retirement” both my husband (of 31 years) and I wanted to move from London to Crowborough, East Sussex, giving us chance to pursue our hobbies of walking and bee-keeping which gives us a more relaxed lifestyle.

So, the secretarial world has been good to me.  The skills I learnt have stood me in good stead and I would encourage any young person leaving school not to be put off by “office work” as you just don’t know what it might lead to. It has led me to meet those in the London PA Network who are the backbone and force behind many companies and organisations in London. Membership of a professional group has been with me for the whole of my career and the fellowship of its members has been invaluable source of encouragement.

Long may London PA Network prosper!