US teacher Alice returned to Belfast for final goodbye before losing cancer fight
Tributes have poured in for an American art teacher who made Northern Ireland her second home after first visiting here seven years ago. Alice Ann Novosel (67), who lost her battle with cancer on April 5, fell in love with the province and its people who in turn fell in love with her during her many visits to Belfast over the years.
In total, Alice visited Northern Ireland 19 times in six years and despite her terminal diagnosis she found the strength to return last October to say a final goodbye to her many friends here.
She and her husband Tony have such a close bond with a wide circle of friends here that when they got engaged at Christmas 2012 they decided to have their wedding in Belfast in March 2013.
When they were unable to arrange a marriage licence in time, they still went ahead with an unofficial ceremony and a reception attended by around 40 of their friends.
Speaking from their home in Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, her heartbroken husband Tony (64) said he had been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love for Alice from her friends in Northern Ireland.
He said: "It has been overwhelming the number of messages from Northern Ireland. Social media was crazy with tributes and we witnessed Belfast's love for Alice.
"One woman wrote 'such sad news to wake up to here in Belfast. Our city loved her, the people loved her' and to write such a lovely tribute just showed how much the city loved her and we all loved her."
It was during a trip to Northern Ireland last March that Tony says Alice's shoulder "snapped".
Despite being in terrible pain she refused to let it ruin her holiday and took strong pain killers until they returned home to America.
On her return, it was discovered she had broken her shoulder and was sent for a CT scan which revealed the devastating news that she had Grade 4 cancer, which had spread from her lungs into her bones. Tony says that despite her cancer being at such an advanced stage and facing chemotherapy, her only desire was to visit Belfast one last time to say goodbye to her many friends - a trip she made against the odds in October.
He says: "I don't know how she willed herself to travel. She was just adamant that she would visit Northern Ireland one last time and she was having chemo one week on and one week off and worked round that to make the trip.
"We met up with all of our friends and she got to have dinner in Ox, which is something she always wanted to do, and we went to the John Hewitt bar where we have a big crowd of friends and to the Rex Bar because we knew the owner and she brought some gifts for him.
"We had three or four nights out to dinner and she really enjoyed herself.
"Doctors marvelled at the fact that she was so active after her diagnosis."
Tony has been a regular visitor to Northern Ireland since 1974, after he made friends with people from Belfast he met while they were in the US.
He has visited on countless occasions since then and some years ago was given the job of organising inductions on behalf of the British Consul for students from Northern Ireland wanting to study in the US.
He became their point of contact while in America and he and Alice hosted many of the young people in their home.
Tony met Alice in 2009 and she first accompanied him to Northern Ireland in 2010, when he says she fell in love with the people.
He explained: "Alice just loved the people in Belfast. She had a very welcoming and open personality and when she met people she just embraced them.
"I would have worked with 2000 students from Northern Ireland over the years and Alice and I opened our home to host many students too.
"Alice was a very special person whose caring nature was as big as her smile. She always did the little things that would brighten someone's day or make people feel better about themselves."
The couple enjoyed what Tony described as a "magical" unofficial wedding here in 2013, before legally tying the knot in the US in 2015.
They exchanged vows in front of friends at All Souls Church in Belfast and then celebrated with a meal in The Potted Hen, followed by a reception in the John Hewitt Bar.
Tony says: "It was Alice's idea to get married in Belfast during our spring break there in March. We couldn't get a licence in time but decided to go ahead as I knew the minister at All Souls.
"The John Hewitt Bar opened two hours early for us to have our reception and it was a really magical day."
Tony was so overwhelmed by the response from friends to news of Alice's passing last week that he took the unusual step of taking out an advertisement in the Belfast Telegraph to thank everyone.
He says: "When we were organising the obituary for the newspaper here we thought that we needed something in Belfast too, as Alice spent as much of her life there in the past seven years as she did here."
Alice was an inspirational teacher for 35 years and had one daughter, Ellen.
She also devoted many years volunteering with the Girl Scouts and at St Vincent de Paul in Monongahela and was committed to the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society and their great work.