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Shephard, Gillian (1940—)

Shephard, Gillian (1940—)

British politician. Born Gillian Watts on January 22, 1940; daughter of Reginald Watts (a cattle farmer) and Bertha Watts; attended North Walsham High School for Girls; St. Hilda's College, Oxford, M.A., 1961; married Thomas Shephard, in 1975; children: two stepsons.

Raised in a rural area of eastern England, where her father had a small livestock business, Gillian Shephard was educated at the local girls' school, and on the basis of her performance there won a state scholarship to St. Hilda's College at Oxford. After studying modern languages, she graduated with an M.A. in 1961 and began to teach. Two years later, she became a civil servant, working as an education officer and schools inspector until 1975. That year she married Thomas Shephard, who was raising two young sons after the death of his first wife, and left paid employment to care for them. A member of the Conservative Party, Shephard was elected to the Norfolk County Council (in West Norfolk) in 1977, and became vice chair of the council's social services committee. She later became chair of that committee and of the committees on museums, on personnel, and on education. In 1981, she was appointed deputy leader of the council, and also began serving as chair of the West Norfolk and Wisbech Health Authority, the local branch of the National Health Service. She gave up that position in 1985, when she became chair of the Norwich Health Authority. Shephard relinquished both this post and her deputy leadership of the Norfolk County Council in 1987, when she was elected to Parliament.

During her first years in Parliament, Shephard was a member of the Select Committee on Social Services, and in 1989 was appointed under-secretary of state in the Department of Social Security. The following year, she was named minister of state at the Treasury, and in 1991 took on the additional position of deputy chair of the Conservative Party. In 1992, she joined the Cabinet as secretary of state for unemployment. Shephard left that post in 1993, when she became minister of agriculture, food and fisheries; a year later, she was appointed secretary of state for education. The scope of this post was widened the following year, when she was named secretary of state for education and employment. In 1997, growing electoral discontent with the policies of Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her successor John Major led to a sweeping defeat at the polls for the Conservative Party (which received its slimmest percentage of the vote since 1832). Many Conservatives lost their seats in Parliament, but Shephard won reelection, and as the Labour Party took control of Parliament under Prime Minister Tony Blair, she was named shadow (opposition party) leader of the House of Commons. From 1998 to 1999, she was shadow secretary of state for the environment, transport, and the regions (meaning that she was the Conservative Party's official voice for responding to policies set by the actual secretary of state for those departments). While still a member of Parliament, in 2000 Shephard published Shephard's Watch: Illusions of Power in British Politics, an examination of the workings of government and political parties in Britain.


Drost, Harry. What's What and Who's Who in Europe. NY: Simon & Schuster, 1995.

Who's Who 1999. NY: St. Martin's Press, 1999.

Ginger Strand , Ph.D., New York City

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