Sally was a class act who was loved and respected by all who knew her

Warm tributes have been paid to highly popular and respected Tandragee woman Sally (Sarah) Kennedy, wife of Billy Kennedy, journalist and author, who died on Thursday last (September 16) after a long illness from a stroke.

Friday, 24th September 2021, 9:30 am

Sally Kennedy, who was 75, died peacefully at Rosemount care home in Portadown with her husband, daughter and two sisters present. She was loving mother of daughter Julie; mother-in-law of Colin (Beattie), and devoted nanny of Lily, 12, and Isla, seven. Tandragee-born Sally and Bessbrook man Billy lived at Knockview Drive, Tandragee and were married for 48 years.

The funeral service was on Monday at Tandragee Presbyterian Church where more than 150 mourners gathered in the church and adjoining church hall to pay a final lasting tribute to Sally. The service was conducted by the minister the Rev Mark McMaw, assisted by the Rev Stephen Kennedy, minister of Buckna Presbyterian church, Broughshane, and nephew of Billy.

Danny Kennedy, brother-in-law of Sally, paid a fulsome tribute to a woman, who, he said, was respected and loved in Tandragee and in the wider community.

He said: “This tribute was, in large measure, composed by Billy himself and I do want to convey the deep emotions expressed in it. Sally and Billy were married 48 years and Billy has described her as ‘a highly principled woman’ with very sterling qualities and positive attitude to life.

“Sally was the youngest daughter of three to Daniel and Elizabeth Berry, of Scarva Road, Tandragee. Her sisters Jean (Millar), Tandragee and Betty (Hogg), Loughgall and their families featured strongly all through her life, to the very end.

“Sally’s father sadly died at the age of 51 when Sally was just 16. After leaving school, she worked at Sinton’s mill before working at Tayto where she was a much-valued member of staff for 25 years, forming close friendships with colleagues that endured long after her retirement.

“Sally and Billy met on the local dance scene in around 1970. They both enjoyed dancing to the Irish showbands and Billy was attracted to Sally’s natural good looks, radiant smile, and always well-dressed appearance. They had good and happy times together tripping the light fantastic!

“They got engaged in October 1970, and were married on July 17, 1973, in Ballymore parish church, Tandragee. Sally, from the Church of Ireland; Billy a Presbyterian. It was a mixed marriage! Sally became a Presbyterian and was a communicant in the Tandragee congregation.

“For a short time, they lived with Sally’s widowed mother at Scarva Road, before moving to Cornmarket Street where they resided until moving to the newly built development at Knockview Drive in 1976. By then, they had a young daughter, Julie, who was just six months when they moved to Knockview.

“The Kennedy’s of Knockview were a close family of three, with Julie very attached to her mum especially. Sally and Julie were soul mates, and the bond became closer when Julie, after her marriage to Colin Beattie, had two daughters Lily and Isla. Sally loved her grand-daughters; they were her pride and joy and, in recent times, when they visited the care home to see their nanny after Sally’s stroke, her joyful reaction was obvious. The girls would sing and converse lovingly with their nanny.

“Sally was intensely proud of her home; it was her castle and she enjoyed making it a special place for her family. She was very supportive of Billy in his career as a journalist with the News Letter, working long hours as news editor in Belfast during years of the Troubles. Sally, as a loyal Tandragee lady also encouraged Billy in his role with the loyal orders in the Bessbrook area.

“Even though she had little interest in sport, Sally was also supportive of Billy’s considerable football interests with Linfield Football Club, as a director for 45 years. But she could read Billy like a book and when Linfield lost, she would quickly ask when he arrived home occasionally looking disconsolate from Windsor Park; - ’Well, did the Blues get bate today?’

“Sally had a dry wit and enjoyed a laugh. She also was very supportive of Billy’s frequent travels to the United States for several decades for research for 12 books he wrote on the Scots-Irish/Ulster-Scots migration and settlements. Sally, indeed, was in America with Billy on the day of the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington in 2001. They were in Knoxville in East Tennessee with an Ulster-Scots group.

“Sally enjoyed good food, best holidays; and she liked to dress in fine clothes. Over their time together, many happy holidays were spent in Portrush, Bournemouth, Scotland, Spain, Italy (Lake Garda), United States and Canada. The 2009 Canada holiday was particularly enjoyable as they travelled over the Rocky Mountains by train from Calgary and Toronto to Vancouver. It was the holiday of a lifetime!.

“Sally, like Billy, also loved American country music and enjoyed going to concerts in Belfast to hear the leading American singing stars. She was also a fan of Daniel O’Donnell, and, of course a big Elvis Presley fan.

“Sally’s stroke on April 7, 2019, was a harsh, life-changing blow to not only herself, but to Julie and Billy also. She lost her speech and was immobilised down the right side. Her time spent in hospital and in Rosemount care home in Portadown lasted two and a half years, but the medical and nursing staff there provided top quality care which complimented the love and devotion of her family.

“She became an integral part of Rosemount, and the family is indebted to everyone there for their 24/7 work with a special lady, who was a model patient in challenging circumstances.”

Danny added: “Most importantly, Sally was a woman of simple dedicated Christian faith who every night got down on her knees to pray to God, her Saviour and friend. Her values were of the highest standard. Sally will live on in our hearts and her memory will be cherished by all who knew and loved her as a devoted wife, mother, mother-in-law, grandmother, sister and aunt, and friend to all those who came to know her. In Billy’s words - ‘Sally was a class act, loved and respected by everyone in her own family and wider community.

“Sally loved her family; her family loved her. We thank God for her life and His goodness to her. We believe that Sally, as a person of faith, the scripture verse from 2nd Corinthians, printed at the bottom of her death insertion is appropriate - “absent from the body, present with the Lord”.”

Danny expressed thanks to the Rev Mark McMaw and the Rev Stephen Kennedy for conducting the service and the organist. Ryan Harris. Thanks were also offered to care home staff at Rosemount home for caring so well for Sally over the duration of her stay. And to those who attended the funeral - fellow members of Tandragee Presbyterian church; neighbours of Knockview Drive, Tandragee and Laurelvale; Journalist colleagues of Billy’s from the News Letter and other media friends; work colleagues of Julie’s; directors of Linfield Football Club; David Graham, Head of Rangers Communications and Media; representatives of the loyal orders in Bessbrook, and the Ulster-Scots Agency. And Maurice Bell and staff from Bell’s funeral undertakers, Banbridge for the funeral arrangements.

Sally was buried in the adjoining church cemetery and, in addition to family flowers, a wreath was placed on behalf of Glasgow Rangers Football Club, a club Billy is closely associated with.

* Donations in lieu may be sent if desired to William Bell & Co, funeral directors 23, Kenlis Street Banbridge BT32 3LR for Tandragee Presbyterian church Sunday school & The Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke (cheques made payable to Wm Bell & Co donations account).

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