LESLEY McQuade was simply an inspiration. She spent her life in a wheelchair due to spina bifida and died last week in Newry Hospice, aged 43, having suffered a short illness.
Until then, she had rarely seen a doctor, had never been in hospital, never complained, and perhaps the most significant moment during her stay in Craigavon Area Hospital ICU was when she told her sister (and great friend) Jill Usher that she had enjoyed every moment of her life, although her death was unexpected in the end.
Her joie-de-vivre was the result of a family who inculcated a positive attitude within both their daughters. Her parents were the late Billy and Tilly McQuade, and they saw to it that Lesley didn’t miss out on anything, their love and sensitivity laying the foundation for Lesley’s productive life.
She lived at Old Rectory Park, and was given early confidence due to her love for verse speaking, her teacher being Heather Malcolmson. Lesley was a regular at Portadown Speech Festival, and also competed in Dungannon and Banbridge, winning a plethora of prizes through her gentle interpretation of various poems. It also rubbed off on Jill, a teacher at Waringstown Primary School and a talented tutor of speech and drama.
Lesley was educated at the Hart Memorial Primary School, followed by Clounagh Junior High and then the specialist Fleming Fulton School in Belfast where she gained skills and qualifications in secretarial studies and administration.
This was truly the makings of her, as it led to a full-time job as an office administrator within the Lurgan Campus of the Southern Regional College where she worked for 20 years, travelling each day by taxi. She loved the work, adored mixing with people, forged wonderful friendships with staff and students who reciprocated in full - she totally enriched the school environment with her gentle humour and will be sadly missed at the start of the new school term this week.
Lesley and Jill were doubly bereaved over the past three years, with the death of their beloved father in 2009 and of their caring mother six months ago.
Lesley valued her independence, and with the help of Jill, Paul, neighbours and friends, continued to live at Old Rectory Park, which she had helped to decorate with her immaculate eye for interior design and which gained the admiration of all who knew her.
On weekdays, she received wonderful support from caring, Christian neighbours Mary Martin and husband Ken, as well as personal friends Rae Rowan and Margaret Smith. And at weekends, she stayed with Jill and family in their Mahon Road home, enjoying the company of Jill’s family - Ben, Lauren and Lee. Jill also kept in daily touch with her sister.
She was great fun to be with, and never asked nor demanded anything. Said Mrs Martin, “She was simply great company, a pleasure to know, a pleasure to help. People couldn’t do enough for her, such was her positive attitude to life”. And during those cherished weekends, she and Jill enjoyed a Saturday night ‘Chinese’ together and Sunday lunch at Jill’s home before she returned to Old Rectory to get ready for another week at the job she found so fulfilling.
The independence her job afforded gave her the opportunity for her favourite pastime of shopping - in shops and on-line - with her eye for fashion and interior design. Her excellent taste was obvious in the clothes she bought and the items which adorned her home. Indeed, on-line shopping was a god-send, as she bought her groceries via computer, with Tesco’s delivering them.
Another main passion was television - she kept up-to-date with the various ‘soaps’, and loved quiz programmes, especially Million Pound Drop - and was not averse to shouting at the screen when someone gave the wrong answer and lost a small fortune!
She inspired everyone around her, and this was the main theme at her funeral service in St Columba’s Parish Church which the Rev Elizabeth Cairns conducted. She said, “Lesley never questioned her spina bifida condition, because she was encouraged from the start by loving parents, who made her determined to live her life to the full, and showed her nothing but unconditional love. She had a happy life which was obvious from the smile she had in all she did. Lesley was a very kind and generous person, and nothing gave her more pleasure than spoiling her niece and nephews Ben, Lauren and Lee.”
And the minister paid a special tribute to Jill - “We want to say thank you for all you have done, not just over the past few months, but all of her life. You would have done anything for Lesley and she appreciated all that you did for her.”
Neighbour Kenneth Martin also paid tribute, recalling Lesley’s kindness in joining a team visiting the Strong Court complex next to Old Rectory at Christmas, bringing them gifts and reciting her poems - “typical kindness of someone who cared for others”.
Lesley’s friends from all walks of life gathered at St Columba’s to say goodbye to a special young woman, who made her mark in Portadown and in Lurgan, and who will be sadly missed. Her favourite hymns, ‘In Christ Alone’ and ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus’ were sung, and burial was at Seagoe Cemetery.