On being the Secretary

Tommy Seaward LG lets us in on the highs and lows of his time as Secretary of The London Group. He is stepping down after more than two and half years in the role.

Why did you take on the role?

I bought a Vic Kuell painting for £400 at The London Group’s memorial exhibition to Vic and a year later I still hadn’t paid for it. I was only supposed to be doing a few months of secretarial work until someone permanent was found and I thought that by taking on the job, I could clear the debt.

How did you prepare for the role?

I didn’t.

What was the best bit of advice you got? (from Mike, former Secretary)

Actually, it wasn’t from Mike Liggins, but from Mike’s partner, Marilyn Kaplan. In her customary sage manner she said, ‘Tommy, you will enjoy all of the gossip.’ At the time, I thought it was a curious thing to have said, but as it turned out, Marilyn was absolutely correct. There has been a lot of gossip.

How did it change your daily routine?

I hadn’t realised how the role would penetrate my internal dialogue at all times of day and also in moments when I needed to be concentrating on other matters. I was constantly thinking that I hadn’t done this, or I needed to do that.

What was the hardest part of the job?

There is not the slightest allowable margin for error in a job that requires absolute attention to detail. When I started out, I very quickly had to learn to spell almost one hundred names. I doubt I will now ever forget that there is one ’L’ followed by two ‘P’s followed by two ‘L’s in the name of our member, Philippa Tunstill.

What are you proud of?

When my predecessor Mike Liggins gave me a ‘transfer of duties’ tutorial, he advised me to always switch off the mouse when I wasn’t using the computer to preserve its batteries’ life. Every time when I stopped using the mouse, I heard Mike’s words in my head and I never once had to change the batteries in my two and a half years in the job. This did please me. (Of course, the batteries may actually last for five years even when the mouse is left switched on the whole time.)

What didn’t go so well? 

There have been a number of deaths of long-standing members during my time in the role. In each instance I was emotionally affected by the news, which I always found out from the President in the form of an email to forward on to the members to notify them of the particular death. In two instances, whilst overly preoccupied with the saddening news of the announcement, I sent out the message without having removed the deceased’s email address from our distribution list. To make this error once was bad enough, but twice was inexcusable. In both instances the families were extremely good about it when I contacted to apologize.

What part of the job did you enjoy?

When an exhibition was over and the dust had settled, after all the reports had been written up and there was nothing more to be said or done, I would delight in pressing delete to the reams of emails.

Is there any particular moment or memory that stands out for you?

‘Secretary’ is a blanket term used to cover the ineffable, stretching from a typist in a 1960’s office tapping out dictation on an old Remington, right through to the heart of government and The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. In between, the word covers about ten thousand other completely different jobs. When I do look back, I’ll remember the uniqueness of being the secretary for The London Group, particularly all the little facets of the role that no-one really knew about.

What part of it was most unexpected?

I hadn’t fully realised how crucial the secretary is to the running of The London Group. The role really can be seen as the hub of a wheel and the efforts and hard work of the President, Treasurer, Officers, Working Committee, Membership Committee, Exhibition Sub-Committee, Online Communications Committee and the individual efforts from out of our full membership, all form the spokes that attach to the hub. The rolling rim of the wheel may be seen as the achievements of the Group through time. Of course, the President and Working Committee choose the onward direction and the speed of the wheel.

What have you learned from the role?

My opinion has always been that artists are fine folk and this has been fortified by my experiences as secretary. The London Group members have always been considerate, encouraging, good humoured and accepting of my shortcomings. There has never been any tension in my dealings with any of the members, which has made it all so much the easier for me.

How has the experience changed you?

It has reaffirmed to me that I prefer to operate in the physical world. I gain a far greater sense of achievement from having spent all day making sculpture, or for that matter, spending a day doing anything that is physical with a visible result at the end, than I do a day spent working on London Group emails, Word documents and Microsoft Excel, even though the secretarial duties require more brain power and ultimately have a far broader impact of usefulness. To me, computer stuff just doesn’t feel ‘real.’ Of course, I realise I am betraying my years and I know for many younger people cyberspace is a substantial chunk of what they consider to be ‘reality’.

Will you miss it?

Yes.

What advice will you give Amy?

Only for Amy to feel assured that our President, Susan Haire, will be very supportive to her in her new role as London Group secretary. So will of course Gill Ingham and our Treasurer, Christine Styrnau, the other Officers, the Working Committee and the full membership. We are all really only in The London Group to work towards its future success and Amy will be warmly welcomed. All the very best with it, Amy!

 

Tommy Seaward LG responding to questions from The Newsletter Team, 2020

Tommy is handing over The London Group secretarial reigns to Amy Owen.