Eileen Cooley: Gifted teacher and wonderful friend
YOU only had to meet Eileen Cooley once to realise that she was a unique and wonderful person.
She had the most amazing gift of making people feel safe, welcome and important in her presence.
You could tell Eileen your innermost thoughts and they remained confidential.
You always left her feeling that she had listened, offered sound advice and put you back on the right path, while the warmth of her ever-beaming smile lifted your spirits.
Perhaps it was these innate gifts which led her into the teaching profession, where she was considered an exemplary practitioner not only in St Patrick’s High School, Lisburn but by geography teachers throughout Northern Ireland in her role as a curriculum moderator.
Eileen was passionate about her subject and enthused thousands of children over her 36 years in St Patrick’s to love and appreciate God’s beautiful world.
She was happiest when planning her next trip abroad or showing off her many albums of photographs, neatly categorised into the countries she had visited.
Although she had no family of her own, she loved her numerous friendship groups which were diverse, cross-community and of all ages, and their presence throughout her illness exemplified the esteem in which she was held.
Eileen was the only child of Anna and Francis Cooley and grew up in Halftown, halfway between Moira and Lisburn.
She received her education in ‘The Convent’ - St Joseph’s PS, Castle Street, Lisburn, where she proudly returned as chair of its board of governors as soon as she retired - followed by the Convent Grammar and Queen’s University, where she gained a BA in geography.
St Patrick’s High School was the lucky recipient of a teacher who was totally committed not only to the education of her pupils but their social and emotional development.
It was no surprise when she was promoted to vice-principal as pastoral leader, ensuring that children were listened to, respected, and encouraged to do their very best, so they had the best start in their work life.
Eileen worked tirelessly to ensure that all young people achieved their full potential. She did this by making her lessons innovative and enjoyable, while focussing on the individual needs of every child.
She was often asked to share her good practice with teachers across Northern Ireland.
Eileen loved her job and saw it as a vocation which extended beyond the school into the community of Lisburn.
Retirement came 14 years ago but life didn’t slow down. Eileen took off like a whirlwind into all sorts of organisations to bring her expertise as a volunteer.
She didn’t just join groups, she organised and acted as secretary, treasurer or chairperson, whether it was the Soroptimists, Queen’s Women’s Graduates, the NAHT Retired Members Association, the Talking Newspaper, or boards of governors of St Joseph's PS, Lisburn and St Colm’s High School, Twinbrook or exams co-ordinator in St Louise’s Comprehensive College and Queen's.
Eileen’s vivacious nature endeared her to everyone who met her and she was courageous in her efforts to have a fair and just system for all, often speaking out for those who perhaps didn’t have a voice.
Eileen Cooley died aged 72 on October 25 and was buried alongside her beloved parents in Holy Trinity Cemetery after funeral Mass in St Patrick’s Church, Lisburn.
Her month’s mind Mass will be celebrated at the church at 6.30pm tonight.
In the difficult weeks ahead, those who loved Eileen should think of her beaming smile, gentle nature and determined outlook and thank God that we were part of a life lived to the full.