Classroom assistant and Beaver leader with infectious love of life

Geraldine O'Kane. INPT03-050
Geraldine O'Kane. INPT03-050

With her boundless enthusiasm and energy, warm personality and infectious love of life, Geraldine O’Kane, who has died at the age of 47, left a lasting impression wherever she went.

The popularity of the classroom assistant, Scout leader and mother-of-four was illustrated by the hundreds of people who packed St Anthony’s Church for her funeral, with many having to stand in the aisles and outside.

Geraldine, who lived in Drumglass, had fought brain cancer bravely for three years and although it robbed her of her ability to read and write, she never gave in to it.

“She had an incredible physical and mental strength coupled with a determination and will to live that never waned throughout her illness,” her husband Paddy recalled.

Geraldine was born in Ardoyne, Belfast, and attended Holy Cross Girls Primary School and St Gemma’s Secondary School. She and Paddy met almost 30 years ago in Belfast where she was working and he was a student at Queen’s University.

The couple married in Holy Cross Church in 1990 and lived in London for six-and-a-half years where Geraldine supported Paddy while he did a postgraduate degree.

When Paddy got a job in Lurgan, the couple moved to the town, eventually settling in Drumglass and integrating quickly and successfully into the community.

Geraldine began working as a classroom assistant at St Anthony’s PS, which her children attended, after being asked to go in for two hours one day to give them a hand. Such was her impact she ended up working there for the next 10 years.

When their children joined the local 7th Dromore Scouts, Geraldine and Paddy became leaders, throwing themselves into meetings and activities. And when three long-standing Beaver leaders retired, Geraldine had no hesitation in taking on the responsibility along with her St Anthony’s colleagues Teresa Martin and Marie McCorry.

According to Paddy, she was very creative and “absolutely loved” her job. He said, “She had loads of energy and used to have the children at school out at lunchtime playing hopscotch and football.

“Even when she was sick she went up to the school to do a painting on one of the glass panels in the school to encourage the children to fundraise for Trocaire in the period leading up to Easter.”

Although Geraldine had a knack for putting people at their ease, she was no push-over, Said Paddy, “She had very strong principles. If something was wrong, it was wrong and she wouldn’t have been afraid to say it.”

Always one for a bit of fun, Geraldine persuaded Paddy to accompany her to the Eire Og set dancing and as well as enjoying the ‘craic’, the team entered the Armagh County Scor.

As a teenager, she also sang in a band which went on to win an all-Ireland school bands competition.

During her illness, Geraldine was approached by the Moyraverty Lourdes Committee who asked her to accompany them on their diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes. After refusing a number of times - Geraldine believed that if God was going to cure her he could do it just as easily in Craigavon as in Lourdes - she eventually agreed.

“She got an awful lot out of it and when she came back, she was determined to support the committee in every way she could and she thought of some incredibly creative fundraising ideas.” said Paddy.

Geraldine also agreed to give a talk in St Anthony’s church about her experiences of Lourdes and, because she couldn’t read from prepared notes, memorised by heart a 15-minute speech which she delivered to a hushed church.

Above all, Geraldine was a devoted wife and mother, always going the extra mile for her children. In July, she and Paddy went to Liverpool for the graduation of their eldest daughter Blaithin, a day which the family looks back on with great happiness.

Geraldine’s funeral service was concelebrated by Father Desmond Mooney, Monsignor Aidan Hamill and Fr Terence, a Passionate priest from Holy Cross.

Members of staff and children from St Anthony’s Primary School and Lismore Comprehensive, along with representatives from the Scouts, formed a guard of honour.

In their school magazine, St Anthony’s PS recalled Geraldine’s infectious enthusiasm, caring disposition, boundless energy and fun-loving approach. “She gave her time so freely and encouraged everyone, young and old, to live life to the full every day,” the tribute read.

Geraldine is survived by her husband Paddy, children Blaithin (22), Patrick and Liam (20) and Meabh (17), as well as her parents Paddy and Bridie McKillen, four brothers, two sisters and family circle.

She was interred in St John’s, Lylo.