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Tributes pour in as Nobel Prize winner and 'a true soldier of peace' Betty Williams dies at 76

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Clockwise from main: Betty Williams

Clockwise from main: Betty Williams

Clockwise from main: Betty Williams

Laureate Betty Williams, a co-founder of the ground-breaking Peace People movement in Northern Ireland who has died at the age of 76, has been hailed as "a true soldier of peace".

The tribute from an international peace organisation was just one of dozens of messages of sympathy for the west Belfast woman who, along with Mairead Corrigan, was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1976 for the work they did to try to bring peace to Northern Ireland.

One of Mrs Williams' last public appearances was in Belfast in January when she accompanied Hollywood film star Sharon Stone to the City Hall where they signed a book of condolence for the late SDLP leader Seamus Mallon.

Mrs Williams said the former MP from Markethill was one of the first politicians to support the Peace People movement which started after the deaths in west Belfast of three children in August 1976.

They were struck by a getaway car driven by IRA man Danny Lennon, who lost control of the vehicle after he was fired on by a soldier.

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Betty with peace movement leader Mairead Corrigan

Betty with peace movement leader Mairead Corrigan

Betty with peace movement leader Mairead Corrigan

Mairead Corrigan was the aunt of the three youngsters and she went on television after the deaths to make a deeply emotional plea for the killings to stop.

Two days later she and Mrs Williams, who was one of the first people on the scene of the tragedy on Finaghy Road North, set in motion the organisation that would become the Community of the Peace People, along with former journalist Ciaran McKeown who died six months ago.

Mairead Corrigan's sister Anne Maguire, who was the mother of the three young children, took her own life in 1980 after a failed attempt to start a new life in New Zealand.

Mrs Williams and Mairead Corrigan's marches for peace were backed by upwards of 35,000 people despite attempts by the IRA to discredit the organisers as 'dupes of the British' and to disrupt their events.

Betty Williams, nee Smyth, had been born to a Catholic mother, a housewife, and a Protestant father, a butcher, in May 1943.

She said her background imbued her with a sense of religious tolerance and a "breadth of vision" which motivated her to join an anti-violence movement that preceded the Peace People.

Mrs Williams insisted that the Nobel Prize wasn't awarded solely for what a recipient had done but what they would do in the future.

And she certainly lived up to her words, travelling the world to campaign for justice, especially on behalf of children who had been the victims of horrific abuse, hunger, cruelty and violence.

She repeatedly demanded that governments globally should listen to the voices of the young victims who were going hungry, pointing out that up to 40,000 a day were dying from malnutrition.

Mrs Williams once spoke passionately of her shock at discovering that so many children were living under the threat of death, and called for safe havens to be established for them to save them from attacks by armed forces and others.

One such haven was built in southern Italy by the World Centers of Compassion for Children International organisation (WCCCI) who praised the woman whose pioneering efforts were the launch-pad for their movement, which she formed in honour of the Dalai Lama in 1997.

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Betty with husband Ralph

Betty with husband Ralph

Betty with husband Ralph

Spokesman Mario Frangoulis said Mrs Williams was his "beautiful friend" who passed away peacefully and left behind "great work with the WCCCI for which she would be remembered".

In 2006, Mrs Williams captured worldwide headlines when she denounced US President George W Bush in front of an audience of hundreds of children at a forum in Brisbane City Hall in Australia on innocent casualties of the Iraq War.

She said: "I have a very hard time with this word 'non-violence', because I don't believe that I am non-violent. Right now, I would love to kill George Bush. I don't know how I ever got a Nobel Peace Prize, because when I see children die the anger in me is just beyond belief. It's our duty as human beings, whatever age we are, to become the protectors of human life."

Mrs Williams was the recipient of over 20 major awards and doctorates around the world. One of them was the People's Peace Award in Norway.

Mrs Williams sat on the boards of upwards of 15 international peace and children's organisations including the Peace Jam Foundation.

They said she was "a true soldier of peace" and hoped her legacy would live on.

The non-stop travel sometimes took its toll on Mrs Williams, who lived for a time in Florida with her second husband James Perkins.

In a blog for the WCCCI she wrote: "Travelling almost constantly to different places in the world and coping with seven nights, six different hotels, is confusing, not to mention exhausting.

"But in this work there are no half measures.

"We must never break a promise to a child."

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Betty Williams

Betty Williams

AFP/Getty Images

Betty Williams

Belfast Telegraph