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Judy Hildebrand obituary

·2 min read

My friend Judy Hildebrand, who has died aged 86, was one of the first family therapists in the UK, and was clinical director of the Institute of Family Therapy from 1987 to 1994.

She was born in Charlton, south London, the youngest daughter of Anita (nee Hyams), a concert level pianist, and Kenneth Nyman, a maths teacher and art house cinema owner. Sent to the US with her elder sisters, Helene and Valerie, during the second world war in 1940, the experience of separation from her parents fed into Judy’s empathy in her later work.

After South Hampstead high school in north London, Judy attended the University of St Andrews, where she studied Latin but did not complete her degree. She then worked in London at the St Giles School of English as a secretary/registrar and as an administrative secretary at the Family Planning Association.

After social work training at the Polytechnic of Central London (now part of the University of Westminster) and Goldsmiths College, she became a psychiatric social worker at the Hospital for Sick Children in Great Ormond Street, London, from 1975 to 1979, rising to be senior psychiatric social worker and, in 1984, coordinator of the hospital’s mediation service.

In 1987 she was appointed clinical director of the Institute of Family Therapy, with which she maintained contact after her departure as a council member and chair of its training sub committee.

In the 1990s she worked at the Tavistock Clinic in London as a social work lecturer, training a new generation of family therapists who appreciated her direct and challenging but warmly supportive manner. Her 1998 book Bridging the Gap is still used on family therapy training courses.

Reluctantly embracing obligatory retirement in 1999, Judy busied herself by leading workshops, writing papers, appearing in therapy-related TV programmes and videos, and becoming involved with charities, including as trustee and chair of Friends United Network and trustee of Family Friends.

Until her death she worked with the RAF Benevolent Fund, facilitating conversation groups for lonely elderly people via group phone calls. She also joined the patient participation group at her local Kentish Town GP practice in north London, instigating a support service for reception staff.

Judy had sparkle, energy, vivacity, humour, elegance and warmth and – not surprisingly, given those many good points – a wide range of friends. Keen on travel and walking trips, she was a magnificent cook, could be relied upon for well informed conversation, and led popular tours around her beautiful garden.

She was also an impressive swimmer, though modesty about the gold medal she won at the 1953 Maccabiah Games (otherwise known as “the Jewish Olympics”) meant that her swimming ability often took friends by surprise as she powered up the pool ahead of them.

Judy is survived by three children, Caz, Simon and Dan, from her marriage to the psychoanalyst Peter Hildebrand, which ended in divorce, by two grandchildren, Lydia and Tiko, and her sister Helene.

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