Tributes as cleric Liz McElhinney who adopted baby from Vietnam dies aged 71
A Lurgan cleric who became well known for adopting a boy during the Vietnam War has died after suffering from Motor Neurone Disease.
The Rev Canon Liz McElhinney died early on Tuesday morning aged 71, after living with the degenerative condition for over two years.
Following the Daily Mail's Operation Babylift, which brought 100 Vietnamese babies to the UK in 1975, the Rev McElhinney and her husband Cyril adopted their son Vance from an English orphanage.
Last year, Liz McElhinney featured in a BBC NI documentary following her son's journey to find his birth family in Vietnam.
Denis Johnston, a senior member of the vestry in Lurgan's Shankill parish, said she would be badly missed.
"She came to Lurgan in the early 1970s with her husband Cyril, he was a youth worker in Shankill Parish Church," he said.
"From the outset, the two of them were a great team in terms of spiritual leadership and encouraging young people. Over many years, Liz herself had a big influence not just in Shankill Parish, but in the wider church across the denominations."
Regarding the BBC documentary last year, Mr Johnston said: "They were very pleased Vance was trying to find out about his roots. They didn't get to the bottom of that at the time, which I suppose was a great disappointment. But they always saw Vance, along with David and Stephen, as their own son and Vance would very much have called Liz his mother."
Earlier this year, Mr McElhinney returned to Vietnam where he finally met the woman he believed to be his birth mother. They took part in a video interview in February.
Speaking in 2016, he said his journey to Vietnam helped him find a new appreciation for his adopted family.
"The life I've been given with the McElhinneys was just unbelievable and, although I didn't appreciate it at the time or I went my own way, they always stuck by me," he said.
"I've got a loving family, I couldn't wish for better parents. I'm from Saigon - that's where I was born and no one can take that away from me, which is great.
"But, I've got to live my life in Northern Ireland."
In January last year, Mrs McElhinney spoke in a video interview of her experience of Motor Neurone disease.
"I'm not terribly courageous or brave, but I did know that this challenge was an expedition or journey of faith," she said.
"Those things that I do not look forward to are parting with my husband Cyril, my three sons, my six precious grandchildren, I don't want to be parted from them."
She continued: "But because I know they too love the Lord I'll be with them and again we will meet."
Church of Ireland Bishop for the Diocese and Dromore, Harold Miller, said Rev McElhinney's passing was "a very sad loss to the Church. It is so hard to believe that the vibrant and loving Liz McElhinney has gone," he said.
"I had the privilege of sharing in Holy Communion with her last week to give thanks for the 20th anniversary of her ordination. It was a holy moment."
The Rev McElhinney began her church career as a curate in Magheralin from 1997 till 2001 before continuing her ministry in Calry in the diocese of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh.
She returned to the Diocese of Down and Dromore in retirement in 2007, taking on the role of pastoral support.
She then served in parochial ministry in Roscommon, diocese of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh from 2013 to 2015.
A service of thanksgiving and celebration of Rev McElhinney's life and ministry will be held in Shankill Parish Church, Lurgan at 10.30am tomorrow. Commital will follow in Mevagh Parish Church, Carrigart, Co Donegal at 4pm, followed by burial in the adjoining graveyard.