Belfast Telegraph

Sister pays tribute to aid worker Sally O'Neill killed in Guatemala car crash

Road accident: Sally O’Neill
Road accident: Sally O’Neill
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

The sister of a veteran aid worker who was killed in a car crash in Central America has spoken of her "immense pride" over the Co Tyrone woman's charity work.

Sally O'Neill, originally from Dungannon, became one of Ireland's most respected humanitarians through her 37-year career with Trocaire.

She had been working with a Guatemala human rights organisation when she died along with three co-workers north of Guatemala City on Sunday.

Her sister Kate Lewis spoke to the Belfast Telegraph yesterday on what would have been Ms O'Neill's 69th birthday.

"We're all in shock, and with her being so far away makes it all seem unreal," she said.

"My sister never really regarded herself as being retired and that energy remained undimmed. Some of her work was in a voluntary capacity with prisoners and homeless people."

Ms Lewis said her sister had been especially proud to have received an honorary law degree from Ulster University in 2017. "On the day I remember she told the students: 'You've had this great education, go out there and make the most of it'," she said. "I must say I found that very touching. She continued that message with students in Latin America as well.

"A big driving force for her was the question: 'How do you make things better for people at the bottom of the heap?'

"The way she saw that was improving their life circumstances, having enough to eat and so on.

"That allowed them to lift their eyes to higher things like education and taking part in society."

Funeral arrangements have yet to be announced, but Ms Lewis said it was likely her sister would be laid to rest in her adopted homeland of Honduras.

"Sally had made her home in Honduras. Her husband and one of her children live there now, so her heart was in two places. One was in Honduras the other was in Dungannon.

"Even though she's lived away for 20 years she was very much at the heart of our family."

She said the family's thoughts were also very much with Ms O'Neill's three colleagues.

"Other people are going through the same pain we had and it is very difficult," she said.

"They're in our thoughts as well.

"These were people she would have worked with and known very well.

"If Sally had been living she would be thinking: 'What about their families, what can we do for them?'

"That was just very much her approach."

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