MARY Casey had a great appreciation for education from an early age.
As the eldest daughter, she was the first girl in her family to attend university.
She was well aware of the hard work her widowed mother, Sarah-Anne, worked on the family farm near Dungannon in Eglish Parish to ensure that her three daughters had the same educational opportunities as their four sons.
Mary and her sisters Anne and Celena all entered the teaching profession with a strong belief in equality, fairness, and the importance of education.
Mary went to England to begin her teaching career. Traveling has always been an adventure that she has enjoyed all of her life.
She told us lovingly about her year when she lived with the Countess de Ybarra in Spain and taught her children English. The family wondered why they loved spending so much free time in their swimming pool – even during siesta time.
On a trip to Fátima, she also met the visionary Lúcia.
Mary eventually came home and taught at St. Colman’s High School in Strabane for many years.
She was the first full-time teacher at the boys’ school who worked hard to give her students a well-rounded education, including home economics.
When her students asked if they could cook, she was told: “Sure, that’s women’s work, Miss!”
This remark ensured that a kitchen was immediately installed in their classroom and all boys learned to cook and be useful around the house.
When Mary brought them along with the basic skills, she brokered a deal with a neighboring school to enable some boys with special talent to move up to higher classes in home economics.
In return, their school offered some girls the opportunity to take mechanics lessons.
Mary has always been proud that her plan has spawned some professional chefs.
She also took a mechanics course herself and knew her way around the hood of a car.
When the riots raged on the streets outside of school, she encouraged the boys she taught to take advantage of the opportunities education gave them.
When past or present students needed her help, she was always ready to offer her guidance and encouragement.
Likewise, coworkers who became lifelong friends remember Mary for her kindness and support. As a union representative, she campaigned for the rights of her teaching colleagues.
After a full and fulfilling teaching career, life changed dramatically for Mary when a sudden stroke severely disabled her youngest sister Celena.
When the doctors said it was unlikely that she would ever recover, Mary refused, with characteristic determination, to accept that nothing could be done.
She and her sister Anne retired from teaching and returned to their parents’ home in Tyrone to become full-time caregivers.
They worked tirelessly to bring Celena a slow but remarkable recovery.
Given the many challenges caregivers face, Mary soon began advocating for the rights of people with disabilities and the rights of caregivers.
She has given her full strength and talent to activism organizations such as Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke as well as many other local groups in support of disability campaigns.
Mary and Anne even took their lobby to Stormont.
For many years they continued to devote themselves to home care and campaigning in the wider community.
Celena’s recovery was successful enough for Mary to resume her love of travel and to take her sister on a trip to New Zealand to meet her mother’s branch of the family.
The three sisters also enjoyed many trips to Bundoran, Knock, and Lourdes.
When Celena suffered a second major stroke, time was against the sisters to continue as a full-time caregiver.
Unfortunately, while Mary still refused to give up, Celena and Anne fell ill.
Mary continued her devoted care routine even when her two younger sisters lived in nursing homes and visited each of them daily to ensure their well-being.
When her sisters died, she continued to devote her time to helping others.
Always young at heart, she had the talent to connect with young people and develop them in education, careers, or in life in general.
She enjoyed the celebrations for her ninetieth birthday and the years that followed, leaving everyone amused with her memories, wit and wisdom.
As the only remaining member of the older generation, Mary became a family treasure.
Her death marks the end of an era, but we will always remember her strong pioneering spirit.