Tributes to businesswoman who managed at high street names including River Island and Mothercare

Gillian Berkmen.

Gillian Berkmen.

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A WOMAN who headed up some of the high street’s biggest names has died after losing a long fight against a brain tumour.

Gillian Berkmen, nee Dowell, was the first female to sit on the board of major German department store chain Karstadt.

She literally changed our lives and I couldn’t say anything more positive than that

Gillian Berkman’s brother, Stuart

It followed a career which saw her begin work in the retail world in 1981, after graduating with a history degree from the University of Hull, when she became a trainee manager with Harrods.

Her roles included a merchandiser with the Burton Group, buying and merchandising controller at River Island and Miss Selfridge, divisional buying manager at BHS, brand director at Mothercare and a director of Mappin and Webb.

She was a non-executive director at Jacques Vert for several years and most recently worked with Andrew Jennings at Karstadt, where she was chief merchandise officer as well as its first female director.

Gillian, who went to Bede School and grew up in Silksworth, was 54 when she died.

She had been diagnosed with a tumour after collapsing at work.

She leaves husband Dana, mum Jean, 79, brothers Stuart, 44, and David, 51, and was the daughter of David, who died in November, aged 81.

Stuart said: “She was very much a grounded person and she was lovely, warm, kind and generous. She literally changed our lives and I couldn’t say anything more positive than that.

“Our parents said they wouldn’t have done half the things in their lives if it hadn’t been for my sister.

“She was an unbelievably-generous person and it’s one thing to talk about her success in her life, but even when her own health was failing, she would do things for our mam and dad.

“She would take them to shows in London or to carols at St Paul’s Cathedral, and for people like our mam and dad, who came from humble backgrounds, to experience that was fantastic.”

Her husband, Dana Berkmen, who lived with her in Gerrards Cross, said: “Gillian was an extraordinary role model, an exceptional leader, a trusted partner, valued friend and treasured wife to me.

“Throughout her career, Gillian proved an inspiration to a great many people. She was professional, human, kind and compassionate with a fabulous sense of humour in the most challenging of times.

“Her sense of fun, along with her terrific work ethic, heightened her ability to be a mentor to those learning from her. Gillian will be remembered incredibly fondly by many and will be a sincere loss to the industry.”