HOUSING Executive vice-chairman John McMullan has paid tribute to his "incredible" mum who beat coronavirus just in time for her 93rd birthday.
Mary McMullan MBE was able to celebrate at a distance with her family at the end of last month having finally been given the all-clear by healthcare workers.
Housing boss John (66) said the negative test was a relief following weeks of stress and worry as she battled Covid-19.
He said: "For us it was a celebration and a relief and happened to coincide with her 93rd birthday celebrations.
"After she'd gone through all that and gone through a period of time post-Covid, we asked the staff at Our Lady's Home in west Belfast if it would be possible to do something for her birthday.
"They organised an event in the garden of the home for us and we had cake, presents and singing.
"It was a superb time, there were a few tears shed but they were tears of happiness, a joyous occasion. She's a remarkable woman, I cannot emphasise that enough."
Mary McMullan (right) is the sister of Paddy Devlin, SDLP founding member and Stormont MP who died in 1999.
Her uncle John Devlin died of Spanish flu, the last century's deadliest pandemic, in 1919 and after Mary's diagnosis, her son John said the family feared the worst.
He continued: "We were really worried as a family due to all the notices on TV and the increasing numbers of poor souls who had passed from it.
"There were people in their 20s and 30s who died from it and we just thought, how is she going to survive? But she is resilient and she came through it with her characteristic strength.
"We were worried, though - we just thought the worst when she tested positive, we thought it was going to be very challenging for her.
"She's always had a very positive outlook on life and a can-do approach and that really came through in facing down this illness.
"We're blessed to have her back, she's such a strong woman. We have many of those in this part of the world and we don't celebrate them enough.
"She's just like her dad Topper Devlin who was wounded on the Somme and survived. I think a lot of her resolve comes from him.
"She never lost her sense of humour, either, despite the dry cough which is the clearest manifestation of the virus.
"She also never lost her appetite which is always a good sign. She dealt with it in a very positive way and it was a heartening experience for all of us."
Mary was awarded an MBE in 1990 for her community work in west Belfast, and John credited his personal achievements to her while thanking staff at Our Lady's Home for the care they provided to his mother.
He added: "My mum was very well known in cross-community circles and understood community issues. She acted as an advocate for community issues, she was kind of pioneering in that way. We learned our acute sense of social justice from her, she's had that her whole life.
"Our mother is our role model and has built in each of us that strong sense of social justice and belief in ourselves.
"Everything that we have been able to achieve in our lives is because of her and we really don't celebrate incredible women like her enough in Northern Ireland.
"We have built societies dominated by male perspectives but they only work well because of women who mostly play understated roles in them.
"I cannot commend the care staff at Our Lady's Home and Macklin Homes enough. They really have a personal link with each of the people in their care.
"They communicated regularly with us, we were able to get reports on her progress and we managed to get some one-to-one video calls with her and were able to talk with her which was so helpful.
"When we were able to see her in that way it really helped relieve some of the pressure for me and my sisters.
"It was lovely to have the opportunity to sit and reminisce and remember and also to have a singalong, it's not difficult to get her singing!" he joked.
"She's been like that her whole life and remembers songs from many years ago word-for-word."