Margaret McAlpine: Champion for children with cancer
MARGARET McAlpine was working as a teacher with children receiving treatment for cancer when she first identified the need for a charity to provide specialist support.
It was 1973 and she had been employed to provide continuity to the education of children on the wards of Belvoir Park Hospital in Belfast.
Margaret was an experienced teacher, having worked at Harding Memorial School in the east of the city.
Having decided to focus her skills on the needs of children and their families coping with the devastation of a cancer diagnosis, she worked closely with consultant oncologist Dr George Edelstein at Belvoir Park to recruite a range of volunteers for what would become the charity Cancer Fund for Children.
Their aim was to deliver a range of practical and financial support to children and their families, empowering them so they could feel better equipped to cope with the many ways the disease impacts their lives.
The charity also provided bereavement support to help families cope with the death of a child or parent.
Current chief executive Phil Alexander said: “Margaret was committed to ensuring that children, young people and their families receive the emotional support they need throughout their cancer diagnosis.
“There is no doubt that Cancer Fund for Children would not be the charity it is today without her vision, commitment and drive.”
In 1996 the charity opened Shimna Valley House to provide holiday facilities for children with cancer and their families.
A decade later, a residential log cabin, called Narnia, was opened in the grounds to support teenagers fighting the disease.
In 2014 Shimna Valley was then developed into Daisy Lodge, a purpose-built therapeutic centre for children impacted by cancer which has provided nurturing short breaks to more than 3,000 families.
It was officially opened by golfer Rory McIlroy, having received significant financial support from his Rory Foundation.
Today Cancer Fund for Children provides support to over 500 families and 1,500 children and young people.
Mr Alexander said Margaret “certainly achieved what she set out to do and more”.
“Her legacy is a timely reminder to us all that we must do everything we can to make sure more children are able to access the right support at the right time.”
Margaret was awarded an MBE in 2003 for her remarkable service to the charity and young people living with cancer.
Away from this work she had a great love of music all her life, serving as a board member of Opera Northern Ireland and Dublin’s Opera Theatre Company.
She returned to school employment after Belvoir Park, working in the area of behaviour modification.
And she gained experience in business, opening and operating Belfast’s first one-hour photo service.
Margaret died aged 83 on January 18 and a thanksgiving service in celebration of her life took place in Killinchy Presbyterian Church.
Predeceased by her husband Trevor and son Mark, she is survived by her daughter Jane and grandchildren Kate and Polly.
:: Each week in Northern Ireland three children and young people are diagnosed with cancer, while many more are affected by cancer in their family. For more information see cancerfundforchildren.com.