AFTER 25 years in politics, there are not many firsts left for Jean Fooks.

But as she prepares to bow out, the city councillor for Summertown has taken up one final duty.

Last Monday she was confirmed as Oxford’s new Lord Mayor, taking over from Mohammed Altaf-Khan.

This, she hopes, will be the last hurrah. For after first being elected in 1992, Mrs Fooks plans to hang up her council robes in May 2018 and take a well-deserved rest.

That is not to say she thinks the job of Lord Mayor is an easy one.

Day one – meeting the heir to the throne – scotched any suggestions of the sort. On Tuesday, Mrs Fooks’s first engagement was to greet the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall as they arrived in Oxford for a visit and she joined them for a tour of the Covered Market.

A big lunch, attended by several dignitaries from the Persian Gulf, followed at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, where patron Prince Charles oversaw its official inauguration.

Mrs Fooks told The Oxford Times: “It was all a bit of a whirlwind to be honest. I woke up in the morning and wondered ‘how did I get here?’

“Going round the Covered Market with the royals felt a bit like Through the Looking Glass.

“They were very nice though and Prince Charles joked about being thrown ‘in the deep end’.”

One official wryly remarked to the Lord Mayor that it was ‘all downhill from here’, but she has taken a more optimistic view: “I now feel like I’m ready for anything.”

But the baptism of fire was a taste of things to come. Lord Mayors are the official envoys of Oxford City Council and generally undertake in excess of 300 official engagements each year. These range from royal visits and leading the city’s annual Remembrance Sunday service to attending small community meetings and charity fundraisers.

Far more used to debating from the front benches of Town Hall’s council chamber, Mrs Fooks will also be presiding from the dais during her final year in politics – putting her literally above the fray.

For one of the city’s most prolific politicians, and having led the Liberal Democrat opposition group until recently, this will be a stark change. “I will try to remember that the Lord Mayor’s role is a ceremonial one”, she says, smiling.

Her appointment was formally supported by her successor as Liberal Democrat leader and fellow Summertown councillor, Andrew Gant, and – in a gesture of friendship across the political aisles – Labour’s John Tanner.

Mrs Fooks and Mr Tanner have spent years taking pops at each other during debates, mostly in jest, but a rare example of the pair joining forces was in the 1990s, when they worked on the Oxford Transport Strategy together.

At the time, Mrs Fooks was chairwoman of the highways and traffic committee and Mr Tanner had the executive transport brief. The strategy, radical at the time, proposed removing buses from Cornmarket Street and Queen Street.

Cornmarket was duly pedestrianised in 1999 and Queen Street, although it has yet to follow, has seen restrictions placed on it to reduce the amount of bus traffic.

“John and I worked very hard together on the strategy,” Mrs Fooks recalls, “and we cut the ribbon together on Cornmarket. It was something that wasn’t party political at all and, even though it was controversial, we got it through the council votes in the end.”

During years when the city council was not under any one party’s control, from 2004 to 2010, she was also the senior councillor in charge of the city works department as it introduced wheelie bins – an unpopular decision at the time.

Mrs Fooks said: “I was accused of desecrating the city. But recycling rates did go up afterwards and it now seems to have all been forgotten.”

But one of the causes that Mrs Fooks says she has spent most time on is championing those less well off in her Summertown ward.

The grandmother-of-two has tirelessly campaigned for Cutteslowe, which she argues is often overlooked despite being one of the city’s most deprived areas.

She first became its city councillor in the early 2000s, after becoming a county councillor for that part of North Oxford. She was previously a city councillor for the North ward.

“The deprivation in Cutteslowe is something a lot of people do not really know about,” she said.

“People there did feel they were not getting their fair share and so it has been wonderful over the years to be able to do my small part and help them.”

Mrs Fooks’s most recent efforts have helped to install new play facilities, keep the community association funded, set up a community bus service after some routes were cut and save the local children’s centre from closure, although she stresses she did none of this alone.

“As a councillor you learn there is a lot you can do even if your party is not in power. Sometimes you can help by just knowing the right person to talk to, or by using a bit of your ward budget,” she said.

“There are so many lovely people in Cutteslowe. I tend to see them every year when I go door-knocking and remember things we’ve been through together – and this year I realised just how long I really have known some of them.”

Jean Fooks was born in Reading in 1939. Her mother was Danish and hoped to have her baptised in Denmark in September that year but Hitler’s invasion of Poland put paid to her family’s plans as they decided to travel back to Britain.

She grew up in Reading and later Bath, where she went to a girls’ school, before later going up to Sommerville College, Oxford, to study physics.

She went on to work at the then Radio and Space Research station in Slough and at the European Space Data Centre in Darmstadt, Germany. She had two daughters and took up teaching maths and physics while they were growing up, before moving to Oxfordshire in 1982 to do data analysis for the health service.

She retired in 1997 to go into politics full-time.

“I have had quite a bit of fun,” Mrs Fooks reflects. “And I am really looking forward to the next year.”

Her chosen charities are Response Giving, Mayday Trust and Wolvercote Young People’s Club.