Vera had a tough start to life. Her mother died when she was only one year old. Her father, unable to manage, sent her to a home until he remarried when Vera was 4 years old. “I don’t remember an awful lot about it because it was never referred to. I wasn’t told I had a stepmother until I was 19, which was quite a shock. I was sent to a boarding school when I was 12 and I just studied.”
Vera recalls suffering religious discrimination. “We were Protestants and at the time Protestants were about 4% of the population in the area. My husband had his yearly contract renewed but he lost it after six weeks because he was Protestant.”
The discrimination continued with four county councils ignoring her husband’s applications for work, one not having a vacancy.
On the verge of leaving Ireland for Canada, Vera and her husband moved to Co. Tyrone. “It was sectarianism but it didn’t affect me. I knew I was Protestant, I knew I wasn’t really welcomed in the country but, I got on with everybody. It never made me bitter. To me your colour and your religion are entirely accidental. They are no credit to anybody so it shouldn’t be an issue.”
Vera became involved with community work. “Milltown started me. There was a group there and it was an all age group and they decided they would form an older people group. They wanted people to put their names down who would go on the committee and I put my name down the second time around.”
Not knowing what she’d let herself in for; Vera joked about being the chairman of the committee. “I said I’d do chairman because they don’t do anything! We just got down to it and we worked out all sorts of outings that we could go on and a couple of educational things. We applied to Awards for All and we got some money from them. I worked hard for them for a year and then decided to take a back seat.”
Vera’s work wasn’t simply restricted to fun filled activities. “We have people coming in to tell us about all the benefits that there are and about safety in the home.”
During her time as Chairman, Vera oversaw cross community projects between Dungannon and Ballysaggart.
“We formed a group called ourselves the Recycled Teenagers. It’s a mixed community and we all get on great. We meet twice a month. We are a collection of ladies and it doesn’t matter who or what you are. We are there to enjoy ourselves, that’s the way it should be. It shouldn’t be conscious in anybody’s mind ‘I’m talking to a Roman Catholic.’ You’re talking to somebody else who is a human being.”
On the key aims of the Recycled Teenagers project, Vera simply articulates, “To get us together, to do things together and enjoy ourselves. We’re all over 60 and we’ve earned it. We’ve earned the right to enjoy life.”
Reflecting on the reasons for her involvement, Vera says, “We had to do it all ourselves. And we still feel from Milltown that they (Government, politicians) could do more to supply a bigger building for us and then maybe we could go further. But money now is just getting so very tight.”
Vera is also involved with the First Steps Women’s Group. “I just started on the basic computer. I’m now doing my European Computer Driving License. They run classes for immigrants coming in when English isn’t their first language. They do maths for mothers who left school, they come and they do their GSCEs and they can help their children with their homework.”
On women’s issues in her community Vera states, “First Steps could do so much more if they just had the money. I know one girl who started here, she got the courage to go on for a degree.”
Vera has seen many positive changes in women’s role in society regarding work and family. “When I was first married, I automatically left work, your husband was expected to keep you. First Steps gives women the basic skills to help them with their C.V. Able to go for a job, know they are fit for it and have something to work for.”
“My motto or aim in life is part of a song, ‘ If I can help somebody as I go along, then my living shall not be in vain.’ And I try to go by that and help as many people as I can.”