Elizabeth Handy obituary

Other lives:

It might seem surprising to say that my long-time friend Elizabeth Handy, who has died in a road accident in Norfolk, was cut down in her prime at 77. But then in professional terms she was a late developer. Although she was born with the eye of a photographer, it was only in her mid-40s that she was able to take up the practice seriously. She was less well known than her husband Charles, the business and social philosopher, but her life was just as remarkable.

As a photographer her main concern was people and she quickly developed a reputation for acute and warm psychological observation as well as a willingness to experiment. These qualities shone out of her work, nowhere more than in her most recent project, which explored the relationship of identical twins in mid-life, a typically fresh and engaging concept.

Latterly she worked with Charles on books that combined his words and her portraits, including Behind the View, a portrait of her village, a sequence of photographic studies including The New Alchemists and Reinvented Lives: Women at Sixty, and, later, a number of photo documentaries, with images by Elizabeth and commentary by Charles, for voluntary organisations.

My Three Selves, a 2007 photograph by Elizabeth Handy
My Three Selves, a 2007 photograph by Elizabeth Handy Photograph: None

She met Charles in 1960 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where he was working; she had a job with the high commission in Singapore and had gone to KL for a party. They married in 1962, dividing their time between their homes in Norfolk and Putney, south-west London, and having two children, Kate and Scott.

Liz had early on turned entrepreneur, running her interior design business, before training as a counsellor with Relate, a skill that served her well as a photographer. Later she combined photography with taking over as her husband’s agent and business manager.

She was born Elizabeth Ann Hill in Farnham, Surrey, in 1940, the daughter of an army colonel, Rowland, and his wife, Olivette (nee Bailey). She attended a dozen different schools but, she said, luckily learned nothing to stop her restless curiosity. Finally, aged 50, she got an honours degree in photography from the University of Westminster.

She and Charles made a formidable partnership. They travelled the world together, always taking time to meet people and understand their interests, which in turn became the source of some of their projects. In 2016 she was briskly telling a business audience how to be old: be useful, be curious, mentor and take energy from the young, do not wait for others to make things happen. “We’re having the time of our lives,” she concluded.

Conscious of what he owed her, Charles would sometimes say he was lucky to be on his third marriage – but each time to the same woman, adjusting their relationship through the different stages of life.

He survives her, along with Kate, Scott and four grandchildren.


Simon Caulkin

The GuardianTramp

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