Hilary Ferris: Fun-loving 23-year-old was generous both in life and death
FROM an early age Hilary Ferris's selfless nature shone through.
In primary school in Newtownabbey she naturally gravitated towards children who were on their own, befriending them and ensuring no-one felt lonely.
At Belfast Royal Academy she was a talented athlete, but on several occasions passed up the opportunity to win medals if she thought a friend might have an equal chance at that distance.
In recent years she brought her feisty, fun personality to jobs in the retail sector, making friends with customers from their twenties to their eighties and happily giving away her own clothes when she updated her glamorous wardrobe.
And while her death from a rare brain cyst aged just 23 is a devastating loss to her family and the many people whose lives she touched, they have been able to take some comfort from the fact her generous nature extended to signing the organ donation register.
Having been unable over the last year to give blood because of her petite build, Hilary had determined that she could not be stopped from helping others in the event of her death.
And while nobody could have thought that day would come so soon, several people have now benefited from her gift of life in a lasting legacy of a remarkable young woman.
Hilary was the youngest of two girls born to Ivan Ferris, a Presbyterian minister, and his wife Heather, a teacher, and grew up in Jordanstown near Belfast.
Although struggling at times academically, she studiously worked to achieve a first-class honours degree in marketing and public relations at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh and had been planning to move to Southampton to be with her boyfriend Gavin and forge a career in the city.
She was working in a management role at the Reiss store in Belfast's Victoria Square and looking forward to her 24th birthday last month when she was admitted to hospital after feeling unwell after a night spent with friends.
Blood tests indicated a problem with her white cells and a CT scan revealed a cyst putting pressure on her brain.
She underwent two operations to drain fluid and was placed in an induced coma in the hope she could recover, but tragically lost her fight for life three days later.
It is thought the condition which caused the chordoid glioma cyst may have been present from birth but is only very rarely seen in people under the age of 25.
Having experienced only apparently innocuous symptoms of sinus-type pain, nothing could be done to prevent her death.
For Hilary's heartbroken family, they have drawn on their strong faith to help come to terms with their sudden loss as well as the knowledge that others have benefited both physically from Hilary's donated organs and spiritually from the way she lived her life.
"She was a kind and wonderful daughter and was part of a group of six close friends who always supported and looked out for each other," her father said.
"Hilary never promoted herself and she was sometimes underestimated by those who didn't know her. She said little about her own life but a lot about Gavin and her friends - the emphasis was always on others.
"She showed people that everyone had potential and value, and all that is missing in lots of cases is someone to believe in them, to support them, to be there and encourage them."
Gavin, who was planning to propose to Hilary on the fourth anniversary of them getting together on Christmas Day, said she "filled all of our lives with so much joy, happiness and sparkle".
"I’m sure I won’t be the only one who will love her forever and I hope we can all be happy and blessed that she was part of our lives, rather than devastated that she has left us.
"She will live on in my thoughts and many others."
Hilary Ferris died on September 5 and is survived by her parents, sister Erin, boyfriend Gavin and family circle.