Susan Fitz-Gibbon, a former President of ARLA and an inspirational figure in the lettings industry, has died after a long and brave battle with cancer. She was 57.
After a hugely successful period with Chesterton, where she was known as the powerhouse of its lettings business, she founded Fitz-Gibbon, with branches in London, in 1988, running the business successfully with her husband Gerald.
After her diagnosis in 2008 with rare bone cancer Chordoma, she underwent a 13-hour operation before radiotherapy. She defied medical expectations by learning how to walk again.
She said: “The first thing I said to the physio was that I needed to be wearing heels by the time I was 50 in 2010.”
Sadly, however, the cancer returned again and again, and more operations followed.
Susan and Gerald sold their business to Countrywide in late 2013 to concentrate on the charity they had founded, Chordoma UK.
Earlier that year she had become ARLA President, but quickly relapsed. She was so ill during her term of office that she needed the support of her Presidential team, including Peter Savage, while her successor Valerie Bannister frequently stood in for her – effectively doing a two-year term of office.
Paying tribute to her yesterday, Bannister said: “I had the good fortune to work with Susan during the years she was involved with ARLA, as well as closely on the Presidential team.
“Susan’s passion for ARLA and raising standards in the industry was unrivalled, and I remember how absolutely thrilled she was to take on the ARLA Presidency. Her desire to succeed at anything she set her sights on was unparalleled.
“There are many of us in the industry who have been inspired by her professional integrity and stoicism in managing her illness.
“The industry was a better place with her measured and sensible approach, and my thoughts are with her husband Gerry and their family.”
Ian Potter, former managing director of ARLA, also paid heartfelt tribute.
He said last night: “For all of us privileged to have met or worked with Susan Fitz-Gibbon we have lost one of the most dedicated, passionate and likeable people to have graced our industry.
“Sue had been ill with a rare form of cancer for some years which impacted on her mobility but not her passion for life and helping others. She just went out and started, with her devoted husband Gerry, and the support of her boys, a charity to help research endeavouring to find a cure.
“I had the good fortune to meet Sue in my early years with ARLA in late 1992. I continued to have the pleasure of working with her on the ARLA Board as a director as well as training where she supported Caroline Cope in driving professionalism in the Private Rented Sector.
“She went on to be come a director of NFoPP after the amalgamation with NAEA, where she had also been a member. Her final year of active service was her Presidential year 2013/14 which coincided with my last year as MD of ARLA.
“We had such wonderful plans to have so much fun but sadly her health was not good but she always knew what was going on and was not slow to let you know if she did not agree. Her counsel was always wise, constructive and thought-through.
“I enjoyed her company and mentoring over nearly 25 years.
“Taken from us far too young.
“Thank you Sue: you will not be forgotten by those who knew you. RIP.”
While Susan stood as a beacon for good practice in the residential lettings sector, perhaps her greatest achievement was her charity.
Its purpose was to raise awareness of the disease and give information to sufferers and their families.
As Susan wrote on its website, one day she was a “busy, happy mum, wife, sister, daughter, friend, businesswoman, with not enough hours in the day to do all the things I wanted to do. Then out of the blue and with no prior warning, I was told I had a life threatening cancer.”
She had thought her backache was a slipped disc. In fact, she was one of just 500 people in the UK with Chordoma.
Brave and beautiful, Susan was a devoted wife to her beloved Gerald, and mother to sons Oliver, Freddie and William.
She said that breaking the news to them of her diagnosis, when they were aged 16, 14 and 10, was the worst thing she and Gerald had ever had to do.
Susan died last Wednesday, January 3.