Derbyshire's High Sheriff Fiona Cannon

Pat Ashworth interviews Fiona Cannon who was sworn in as High Sheriff of Derbyshire on 14th April.

It’s not exactly in the genes, but as the daughter of two former High Sheriffs of Derbyshire, Fiona Cannon is better placed than most to know what the role demands.

Her father, George Kenning, was High Sheriff in 1971 and her mother, Marjorie, in 1988. Fiona has a prized formal picture of her mother, the first woman in the county to hold the office, sitting composed and very regal in her dark blue velvet suit, WAAF medals, neatly fitting tricorn hat and buckled shoes. ‘I’ve used my mother’s buttons and her jabot for my own outfit,’ she says with pleasure.

If being a true daughter of Derbyshire were one of the criteria, Fiona would more than qualify. Her great-grandfather opened a hardware shop in Clay Cross in 1878 after an accident in the colliery. His son, Fiona’s grandfather who later became Sir George Kenning, then joined him in the business, which expanded into the distribution of paraffin and petrol. In 1917 George negotiated the first Kenning Motor Dealership with William Morris, later Lord Nuffield. Sir George Kenning’s son, also George, was Fiona’s father who became chairman and joint managing director with his brother David of the very successful Kenning Motor Group.

Fiona was born in Chesterfield but the family moved in 1960 to Longstone Hall in Great Longstone. She remembers the years that followed with great affection. ‘We had such fun as a family, I have very fond memories of my childhood.’ She has been happily married to Michael Cannon for 40 years. Their first home was near Clay Cross and then they moved to Matlock before settling in Brailsford 24 years ago: ‘So I feel I know Derbyshire very well. The truly dramatic and beautiful part of Derbyshire is in the north, though we love living in Brailsford where the countryside is softer. Derbyshire people are so genuine and kind.’

She continues to explore the county on walks with friends: they have completed the Limestone Way and the Derwent Valley Heritage Way and are just finishing the Bonnie Prince Charlie Way. ‘You don’t need to go anywhere else, do you?’ she says in contentment.

After boarding school in Berkshire, Fiona trained as a nurse at London’s Middlesex Hospital, transferring to Scarsdale Hospital in Chesterfield after her marriage. Her nursing background stood her in good stead for a working career in the health care service: she set up an occupational health service for the County Council before concentrating on voluntary work as Branch Nursing Officer for Derbyshire Red Cross.

Most Read

Later Fiona became a non-executive director of Derby City General Hospital. She was extensively involved in the successful �1.5 million Kite Appeal to build a new children’s hospital, a task which she describes as both exciting and fulfilling.

Is she good at galvanising people to do things, I ask? She reflects, ‘If I believe in the cause, then I can get people to be enthusiastic.’ She intends the focus of her shrieval year to be one which complements Crimebeat, the High Sheriff’s charity, and marries perfectly with the duty of the High Sheriff to promote law and order. ‘I aim to take a particular interest in the problems of gang culture and anti-social behaviour,’ she says, adding, ‘I know there are a lot of people doing good work out there to combat these issues, but I intend to meet them, see what they do and give them support in any way I can.’ Fiona’s fundraising event for Crimebeat is to be the High Sheriff’s Mixed AM AM Golf Tournament by kind permission of Kedleston Park Golf Club on 8th August.

A magistrate for almost 20 years, she sits in the Family Court as well as the Criminal Court and has seen a parade of people in trouble. ‘I’ve noticed that after short custodial sentences, offenders can be back in court again before they’ve really had a chance to keep to the straight and narrow. When people come out of prison, they need support,’ she observes. ‘The Probation Service has just begun a scheme whereby onrelease from prison, previous offenders are offered voluntary contact with a probation officer. Assistance can be given with finding a place to stay and advice on money matters, this can help towards keeping them out of trouble. That’s very important and as High Sheriff I shall give support to the Probation Service and the Police in their valuable work.’

There are numerous dates in the calendar already, many official events to go to, but she is resolved to be proactive in making her own visits to the areas that focus on her interest. She reflects, ‘I think I could sit back and wait for all the invitations to come in and end up incredibly busy. I’d probably have had a wonderful year, but I really do want to be able to look back and say, I did make a difference, I did achieve my objectives.’

She will be having a year away from the Bench, and will have to take a back seat in some of the other work in which she is involved, such as fundraising for Marie Curie – though she is looking forward to the High Sheriff’s Walk at Chatsworth on the evening of Midsummer’s Day, followed by a hog roast, to raise money for the charity. There’ll be less golf as well and certainly less sailing – something that has been a passion since childhood.

‘Our family has always sailed. My father loved the sea and when our children were small, we took them on flotilla holidays, which were always great fun,’ she says. ‘Then we started sailing our own boat. Last year, we sailed from Salcombe to Brittany. Our longest passage was 26 hours because it’s quite a small sailing boat, but it’s the most adventurous thing we do! It’s complete freedom using the elements – it’s the greatest thing.'

Michael and Fiona have three children all in their thirties. Sophie is a physiotherapist at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London, where she is an extended scope practitioner. Charles and James (who is engaged to be married to Helen Wilson), joined their father’s business after careers elsewhere. They have assisted their father to diversify the business, moving from quarrying to property development and management, as well as conferencing and restaurant facilities, the production of biodiesel and the manufacture of international sports’ surfaces.

The family will all be at home for their mother’s Swearing-in ceremony by Judge John Burgess and one of Fiona’s fellow magistrates Dr Margaret Cohen on 14th April. Her chaplain and cousin, Patrick Thomas, who is Canon Chancellor of St David’s Cathedral in Wales, can’t be there for the ceremony but will be preaching at the Legal Service on10th October in Derby Cathedral.

She is a slim and elegant figure in the beautifully tailored outfit made for her by a dressmaker in Rutland. She has had light-hearted warnings from previous office holders about the effect of lots of formal dinners, she says with a smile, but hopes that the tennis, golf, sailing and walking will all get her back into shape after her year in office!

Former High Sheriffs have also advised Fiona to think ahead about what she wants to do and to ‘hit the ground running’ otherwise she will find the year is over before she has really got into her stride. Perhaps the best advice she has had, she suggests, has come from her predecessor Sir Henry Every: ‘“Seek that which is good, publicise it, applaud it and say thank you.” That will do for me.’