Julie Fantom always said she had the best job in the world. She adored her work helping headteachers solve problems both at home and at work, and in return they had enormous respect for the fair and professional support she gave them.
Ms Fantom worked her way up from a school secretary to the West Midlands regional officer for the NAHT heads' union. Being appointed to the post was a dream come true - she had never expected to work in education at that level.
Born in Somerset, Ms Fantom grew up in Stourbridge in the West Midlands, where her parents ran a photography developing business. Ms Fantom was the eldest of three children and had two brothers, John and Michael. She dreamed of studying at the University of Oxford and becoming a journalist, but family circumstances meant that it was not possible for her to complete her A levels. Instead she found a job as a lab technician in a chemical factory in Wolverhampton. Later she worked for engineering group GKN.
Ms Fantom married young and had two children, working as a secretary at their primary school in Wolverhampton. In 1990, she became an administrator in the education department at Wolverhampton City Council; she was later promoted to the human resources team. She then worked for the NUT before moving to the General Teaching Council for England in 2000. Her final role before joining the NAHT in October 2007 was senior HR officer for Stoke-on-Trent City Council.
She loved working at the NAHT and found it extremely rewarding. Ms Fantom could talk as easily to a senior council officer as she could a school leader. During difficult cases, she prided herself on being fair to both sides, always demonstrating sympathy and understanding as part of a compassionate but no-nonsense approach. Her NAHT colleagues remember her as tenacious and lively, and she acted as mentor and guide to a number of her regional officer colleagues.
Outside work, Ms Fantom enjoyed travel, photography and walking, especially locally and in the Lake District. She met her partner, Rob, at her walking group in 2008, and the couple lived near Wolverhampton.
Ms Fantom was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003, but it returned in 2009 and then for a third time in 2011. Throughout the difficult treatment, she kept working as much as she could, declaring herself bored if she could not do her job. She was stoical and retained her mischievous sense of humour throughout.
She managed to take a cruise to see the Northern Lights just four weeks before her death. Her target was always to return to her job, and this was still her aim at the end of her life.