Charity volunteer and devoted family woman with love of outdoors

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Not many 80-year-olds choose a motorbike ride, courtesy of their nephew, as their birthday present and then comment that it isn’t fast enough - but such was the larger-than-life and vibrant personality of Mary Elizabeth Jennett.

Mrs Jennett, known to friends as Betty, passed away in Sandringham Nursing Home at the age of 92, after a full and happy life.

The great-grandmother, who lived at Markethill Road, Portadown, had had her share of health problems over the past 30 years, including a triple bypass, heart vale replacement and macular degeneration, but never lost her zest for life.

She loved all types of sports, from hockey and bowls to rugby and snooker and, as a founder member of Mullavilly Bowling Club, regularly organised an annual open tournament.

She played outdoor bowls for Portadown and held the post of lady president, and for a number of years also represented the area on the Armagh zone team.

Just before the summer Olympics in London, Betty visited the venue for the rowing at Dorney Lake with daughter Caroline, and was delighted to have her photo taken with TV presenter Clare Balding.

She was also among the spectators at centre court in Wimbledon in the late 1980s where she and daughter-in-law Pauline saw Boris Becker compete in the men’s finals.

Betty was passionate about rugby and one of her favourite pastimes was watching the Six Nations Championship either live or on TV. Her son Robert had taken her to five venues - Murrayfield, Lansdowne Road, Twickenham, Parc de France and Cardiff Arms Park - and she had always wanted to visit Italy’s ground as well.

Betty was very much an outdoor person, and far preferred to be out in the fields than doing housework.

At this time of year, she loved nothing better than spending time in the orchards, pulling apples, and her children and grandchildren have precious memories of days spent on the back of the trailer, picnics and sampling her delicious baking and apple tarts.

She was closely involved with Craigavon Cardiac Care Association (CCCA) and, with her late husband Bobby, was a regular figure in the foyer of Craigavon Area Hospital, where she sold tickets for the Christmas draw.

In fact, she even won a car in the early days of the draw.

Born on June 14, 1923 in Markethill to John and Elizabeth Anderson, Betty was one of four children. Her older brother Sidney predeceased her and she has two sisters - Eleanor in Ballymoney and Kathleen in New Zealand.

In 1936, the family moved to Drumnakelly, after a short spell in Canada, with Betty attending Markethill PS and Portadown College which she left at the age of 17.

She was a good hockey player, playing for the school’s first eleven team.

She became a clerical officer, working in Armagh and then transferring to Stormont. However, when she married Bobby Jennett in 1947 she had to leave her job, as married women were not allowed to work in the Civil Service at that time.

Instead, she devoted that period of her life to looking after her husband and their children Caroline and Robert.

In the mid-1960s, with her children more independent, she went to work at Portadown Library. After her retirement, she immediately volunteered to help with the library at Craigavon Area Hospital, where she loved going around the wards, helping the patients choose books.

Nursing would have been her first choice of career - but her mother didn’t want her to pursue it - and she would undoubtedly have proved a natural, such was her caring nature, especially when someone was ill.

She received a Mayor’s Award in 2001 for her invaluable community work.

Family holidays were spent in Portrush and touring round Ireland and in later years Betty and Bobby enjoyed visiting Scotland.

Betty also visited Europe along with her good friend Lottie Quinn and sister Eleanor and even took a trip to New Zealand to visit her sister Kathleen.

Betty was a devoted grandmother and great-grandmother who would quietly have slipped the children money for treats as they progressed through school and university.

Her family are deeply appreciative of the group of retired library ladies who always included her in their lunch outings and took such good care of her when they were out and about.

They have also thanked Dr McDonald and Dr Adams as well as Dr McGuckian and his acute care team who worked alongside the caring staff in Sandringham Nursing Home, where Betty had been a resident for the past 18 months.

Betty was predeceased by Bobby who died in June 2010, the couple having been married for 63 years. She is survived by her sisters Eleanor and Kathleen, daughter Caroline and son-in-law Derek, son Robert and daughter-in-law Pauline, grandchildren Cathy, Gareth, Jill, Jonathan and Richard and great-grandchildren Ella, Liam, Molly, Ruby and Freya.

Mullavilly Parish Church was filled to capacity for the funeral service which was conducted by the Rev Sam Black, former rector of Ballymore Parish Church, in the absence of the rector, the Rev Elizabeth Cairns. The family has thanked her for her dedicated, pastoral care.

Interment was in the adjoining churchyard.