Mary McKillop: Centenarian had lifetime of giving and sharing
MARY McKillop, who lived to the age of 102, spent a lifetime sharing and helping others.
The third of eight children, she was born at home in Aldergrove, Co Antrim to Tommy and Catherine in 1915.
She was a studious child and achieved well in school. Indeed, it appears that there was some competition to sit beside her in the hope that answers would be shared.
Mary would have loved to have become a doctor but she contributed instead to the higher education of two of her brothers. She remained intensely proud of their achievements and, in turn, they remembered her sacrifices for them.
On leaving primary school, Mary travelled to Belfast daily by train, the factory horn in Crumlin acting as time keeper for the dash to the station.
She attended Orange’s Academy and completed a commercial course. She had a beautiful writing style and added shorthand, typing and book keeping.
Her meticulous approach and pride in never making a mistake was prized by her employers. However, even the lure of increased wages could not prevent her from returning home to work at Langford Lodge when the US Air Force took over the station during the Second World War.
The decision to leave a war-torn Belfast was hastened by an evening visit to a candle-lit St Malachy’s Church during which she unexpectedly encountered a corpse in an open coffin. In the gloaming, she dashed from the church and, fearing she was being followed, ran all the way to her digs in Rugby Road.
In her haste to get into her room she turned on a light without first drawing the blackout blind and was fined a week’s wages for her indiscretion.
Mary’s work also impressed the Americans and she was offered a post in the US. She politely declined, being too attached to home and her family, and in the post-war period worked as a civil servant in Belfast and at RAF Aldergrove.
Her loyalty to her family and employers extended to St James’ Church, Aldergrove. She was a member of the Altar Society for more than 70 years and always ensured the metal work was shiny and the linens were pure white and starched.
One of Mary’s proudest moments was in 1947 when she was involved in a broadcast Mass as a member of the church choir. She had a beautiful voice and, when working in Belfast as a young woman, she often used her lunch hour to attend singing lessons.
Mary had many male admirers over the years – not surprising as she was attractive both in looks and personality. However, she decided to dedicate her life to looking after her ageing parents, her brothers and sisters and her nieces and nephews.
She helped the latter prepare for the transfer test before turning her attention to the neighbours’ children.
Much of her hard-earned wages were sent as donations to a variety of missionary organisations. Nevertheless, she was thrifty and eventually saved enough to buy a car. She only gave up driving at the age of 93, having maintained an unblemished record.
Mary ensured that anyone who called to her home was well fed, and particular attention was paid to the welfare of the priests of the parish.
A keen gardener all of her life, she used home-grown produce to produce tasty salads and jams and provided flowers for the church.
The world is a very much poorer place for Mary’s family, friends and neighbours following the departure of this kind, loving and most generous lady.
As we approach the first anniversary of her death on April 25, we remember Mary with great fondness.
Anthony Grant and Maura Potter