Dame Catherine Fiona Woolf, a corporate lawyer, was the second female Lord Mayor of London (between 2013-2014), after Mary Donaldson in 1983, and was the second female President of the Law Society in 2006.
Fiona Woolf (née Swain), DBE, DStJ DL, was born on the 11th May 1948 in Edinburgh, and was educated there before studying Law and Psychology at Keele University. She was then awarded her Master’s from Strasbourg University, graduating with a Diploma in Comparative Law. She later qualified as a solicitor in 1973 and worked as an assistant at Clifford Chance until 1978. She then moved to CMS Cameron McKenna where she became the firm’s first female partner in 1981. She ran its banking and project finance practice in Bahrain for three years, before negotiating the Treaty and the Concession Agreement for the Channel Tunnel.
In 2001-2002, Woolf was awarded a Senior Fellowship at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Centre for Business and Government. While at Harvard, she wrote a book on attracting investment in electricity transmission systems: Global Transmission Expansion: Recipes for Success (2003). Woolf served as the President of the Law Society of England and Wales between 2006-7, and she is an Honorary Bencher of Middle Temple, a life position which recognises contributions to the legal profession. She was the Chairman for both the Association of Women Solicitors and International Committee of the Law Society.
In September 2013, Woolf was elected the 686th Lord Mayor of London, only the second time in its 800-year history that a woman held this post, second only to Mary Donaldson who was Mayor from 1983-84. The Lord Mayor sits at the top of the City of London Corporation, which oversees the financial district at the heart of the capital known as the Square Mile.The role is also about being an ambassador, advocating the virtues of the British financial market round the world.
Woolf was elected Alderman for the Ward of Candlewick in the City of London in October 2007, is the Chancellor of the University of Law and was a member of the Competition Commission (UK) from 2005-2013. She was the Sheriff of London for 2010-2011 and she was appointed Deputy Lieutenant of Greater London, in March 2016.
In September 2014, Woolf became Chair of the independent inquiry into the UK’s institutions’ handling of duties to protect children from sexual abuse. She stood down a month later amid concerns about her connection with Lord Brittan, a former Home Secretary who was being investigated in the inquiry, whom Woolf maintained she did not know particularly closely.
Appointed in 2002, Woolf is a Commander of the Order of the British Empire, later being appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 2015 for “services to the legal profession, diversity, and the City of London”.
Woolf has maintained close links with multiple charities, being a trustee for Raleigh International and Wexford Festival UK Trust, a governor of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and Friends of Oxford Shakespeare Company, as well as being a member of the Parochial Church Council of St Clement Eastcheap.
Woolf lives with her husband, Nicholas Woolf, a retired tax partner at Arthur Andersen, whom she met in her forties when they were working on the same oil deal. Fiona considers opera her main passion and is the President of the Chelsea Opera Group.
Written by Caroline Dix, Project Coordinator for First 100 Years