Vera McElroy: Caring and compassionate Carrickmore nurse was 'of the community and for the community'
VERA McElroy saw herself as ordinary but to many others she was extraordinary.
For much of her 52 years as a registered nurse she cared for the community of Carrickmore in Co Tyrone as practice nurse in its health centre.
Gentle, caring and compassionate, she was known for her kind nature and words of encouragement to those in ill health.
Over the years the door to her home was always open with neighbours and the local community coming to have their injuries tended to.
Vera's long and varied career also saw her care for people injured in the Troubles and attend the scenes of car and industrial accidents.
A 12-hour shift in the Tyrone County Hospital following the Omagh bomb had a lasting impact.
Her contribution to the community also merged her professional life with voluntary work.
She was a founding member of Termonmaguirc Cancer Patients Comfort Fund, established to support people within the parish and patients of Carrickmore Health Centre.
It has been operating for more than 40 years and continues to grow from strength to strength due to tremendous support from the community.
Vera was born to James and Josephine Savage (née McAleavey) in May 1942 on Scarva Road, Banbridge and had nine siblings, two of whom died in infancy.
She attended St Patrick’s Primary School, Banbridge and Our Lady’s in Newry, where her aunt Sr Immaculata (Gertie McAleavey) was the music teacher.
She studied to be a nurse in Belfast and while there met Frank McElroy from Carrickmore, who was working as a barman for the Irish Bonding Company.
They were married in 1965 and initially emigrated to Canada to join her sister Anne Winslow.
Vera nursed at St Joseph’s Hospital in Toronto while Frank worked for Kodak.
Their daughters Frances and Katherine were born in Canada but they returned to Ireland just in time to welcome Gavan to the family in 1969, when they set up home in Carrickmore.
Vera and Frank were later blessed with the arrival of son Davitt and daughter Jayne.
Vera started work in the newly-built South Tyrone Hospital in Dungannon, where she remained until 1972 when a doctor’s appointment with her great friend and mentor, Dr Kevin Quinlivan, resulted in her working with him and Dr Dan Meehan as a practice nurse for the Carrickmore community.
In 1984 the expanding practice moved to a new health centre serving more than 7,000 patients.
Many new colleagues joined the team over the years and while Vera officially retired in 2007, she soon returned on a part-time basis to help with clinics and holiday cover.
Vera was a long serving member of Carrickmore Youth Club Advisory Committee and a dedicated supporter of St Colmcille’s Gaelic Football Club.
On countless occasions she was called upon to assess and deal with players’ injuries before, during and after matches as well as tending to spectators who became unwell.
Her greatest joy was during the 1990s and 2000s when she saw Gavan and Davitt win many titles with her beloved Carmen.
Just a few days before her passing she celebrated with her grandson Rory and his team mates as they arrived back to the parish as Tyrone under-21 champions.
Vera McElroy was laid to rest in St Colmcille’s cemetery after her funeral on Christmas Day, where the large attendance was testament to the high esteem in which she was held.
Her passing will be mourned by many, not least her husband of 55 years, Frank.
She will also be sadly missed by her five children, daughters-in-law Ursula and Sinead, sons-in-law Gordon Morrison and Stuart Murphy, and 12 grandchildren.
First and foremost, Vera was a wife, mother and grandmother and her immediate and extended families were at the centre of her life. But she was also of the community and for the community.
The stories of her life will keep her memory alive both within the minds of her family and of the many people with whom her path crossed.