Dolores kelly has been a fixture on the political scene in the area for 23 years - indeed it was in May 1993 that she stood for her first council election.
Born in Derrymore, Gawley’s Gate to Peter and Kathleen Lavery she is now 56 years old and is the eldest of eight children, having five sisters and two brothers.
Of her school days she said: “When my first school Brankinstown closed I moved to Derrymore where I was taught by an inspirational teacher, the late Mrs Imedla Faloon who sadly passed away two weeks ago. The old school had outside toilets and so the new school seemed to us like paradise.
“I loved school and have very fond memories of the teachers, dinner ladies, caretaker and other pupils. Having passed the 11+ in 1971 I went to Our Lady’s Grammar School, Lurgan. (Subsequently, St Michaels).
“My Grandmother used to say ‘remember Dolores education is easily carried’. Moving from a small rural school to a huge grammar was a daunting experience. The nuns and teaching staff were exceptionally kind and committed to ensuring that each of us reached our full potential.
“I always had summer jobs. My first was pulling beans and peas for local farmers, 10p a bag of beans and 25p for a bag of peas (four stone bag). I also worked in Wellworths after school on Friday nights and Saturdays and also as a bar waitress in the Igo Inn Derryhirk.
“I trained as an Occupational Therapist at the Ulster University. Before entering full-time politics, I worked as an Occupational Therapist in the Psychiatric Unit in Craigavon Area Hospital, as Day-Care Manager in Banbridge Rehabilitation Centre and then in the Meadows Day Centre in Portadown. My experience working in Health and Social Care has stood me in good stead and drives me to campaign for the much needed improvements in the whole area of health care.”
In 1982 she married Eamon, they have three daughters and a son and ware now the very proud grandparents of Micheál and Liam (17 months and 4 weeks).
Relating how she entered the cut nd thrust of the political fray Dolores said: “Working full-time with three young children and expecting my fourth child (at 33 years old) getting involved in politics never entered my head.
“Outside of work and family, I volunteered on the Aghagallon Parish Council but had little other experience so it came as a complete surprise to me to be asked by the local SDLP Branch if I would be their candidate in the forthcoming council elections in May 1993.
“Sadly, at the same time my mother, Kathleen (54 years) was dying from bowel cancer, so it was a very tough time for the whole family. My first thought was could I really do this job, which I believe is the reaction of most women or used to be. However, with my experience of working in the Health Service I really wanted to be in a position as a public representative to help change things for the better, and so I agreed with the support of my husband to let my name go forward. In fact, I really always had an interest in Human Rights and had joined the Anti-apartheid movement while at University.
“I represented the Loughside DEA along with my much missed colleague the late Séan McKavanagh. Indeed, I remember my mother getting the loan of a wheelchair so she could cast her vote for me. She always insisted that we used our vote and was quite excited about the emergence of the SDLP and their fight for equality and social justice! John Hume was a particular hero of hers.
“When I first entered Craigavon Council there were huge banners in the windows proclaiming ‘Craigavon Says No’ to the Anglo Irish Agreement. This was at a time when there was still a lot of death and destruction on our streets and the heart was being torn out of our three town centres with bombs. I desperately wanted to change all that so that my children could have a different and better future.”
She added: “Craigavon Council was definitely an experience which has served me well as an MLA. I had the privilege of representing Loughside for 17.5 years. During this time I was privileged to serve as the first Nationalist Mayor of Craigavon from 1999-2000. This was definitely one of the highlights, but was tinged with sadness because my mother wasn’t there to see it. Could she ever have imagined a time when her daughter, a nationalist would be the 1st Citizen of Craigavon. It was my aim to be a Mayor for all the people.
“It was in my honour to follow in the footsteps of Brid Rodgers as MLA in Upper Bann in 2003. My responsibilities have included serving on Health, Justice, environment, Employment & Learning, Social Development and more recently the Education Committee. I am also a member of The Policing Board since 2013. The signing of the Good Friday Agreement was the culmination of all that I along with my Party had fought so hard for. It held out the promise of a different future free from violence with the building of partnership and reconciliation. Regretfully, progress in this area has been slower that we envisaged.”
On her worsk she said: “The most rewarding part of my job is being able to help people with their problems and being able to advocate strongly for changes in the law, such as improving the protection for victims of domestic violence.
And asked what she does in her free time: “Free time, What’s that? By the time I catch up with household chores (not something I get excited about anyway) there is little time left for gardening and reading.
“My new Grandsons are the joy of my life and I’m looking forward to the wedding of my second daughter in early October.”