Liz Handy – An Appreciation

Accomplished portrait photographer and business manager


Liz Handy died tragically in a road accident in Norfolk on March 5th. She was an accomplished portrait photographer and was the wife, agent and business manager of Charles Handy, the writer, broadcaster and social philosopher.

She was born Elizabeth Ann Hill in 1940, the daughter of an army colonel, and spent much of her childhood travelling and living abroad, attending 10 different schools before she was 11. “Luckily”, she claimed, “I learned nothing to stop my restless curiosity”.

In her early career, she worked as an interior designer and a marriage counsellor and developed an interest in photography. She met Charles in Kuala Lumpur and they married when Liz was 21. They had two children, Kate and Scott.

Life changed totally for Liz, as it did for Charles, when he gave up his secure, pensionable job to work as a freelance writer and lecturer. He had been prompted to do this by the death of his father, a Church of Ireland archdeacon in Co Kildare. Realising the life of service his father had given to his flock, Charles and Liz turned to living a “portfolio life”, working 100 days a year on “money-making things”, 100 days on research and writing, 50 days on charitable causes – “our tithing to society”, as Charles put it – leaving 115 days for leisure and travel. They pursued their own interests but for Liz it was a major change. As Charles put it, “Hitherto Liz had been the mother of my children and the company of my bedroom and my social life and so on. Now we would be full partners at work and Liz would be my agent, my organiser and she would arrange my work”.

Liz revelled in her new role. Her quiet, gracious and soft spoken manner belied the very strong persona of an efficient organiser and a highly competent manager. Her own career as a photographer also flourished, and at the age of 50 she was awarded an honours degree in photography by the University of Westminster. She and Charles complemented each other so well, travelling the world, researching, promoting and organising. They collaborated on several books where her photographs spoke as eloquently as his text. One of these books, A Journey Through Tea, poignantly features a self-portrait of Liz in an armchair in a field of corn beside their lovely home in Norfolk. She considered her portraits a form of social history, developing a technique of layering and joining up to 20 photographs which gave a deep insight into the subject’s life. Her last project was a study of identical twins in later life. Liz never lacked for creative ideas.

In recent years Liz and Charles photo-documented the work of a number of voluntary organisations. One of those projects, “The Potato Farmers of East Africa”, concluded with a major exhibition in Dublin Airport which was opened by President Michael D Higgins.

In 2014 Liz was diagnosed with cancer, underwent surgery and chemotherapy and bounced back again, full of positivity. At the age of 60 she had written, “Who knows for certain what is brewing inside us, or what accidents lie in wait? Retirement is not an idea I can get my head around. As long as I can see something through my viewfinder, life will be worth living”.

For Liz Handy life was always worth living and was well lived to the end. She is survived and deeply mourned by Charles, Kate, Scott, her four grandchildren and many friends. Her life will be celebrated later in the summer in London.