TRIBUTES have been paid to a “very special” stalwart of community life who devoted much of her time to a North-East parish.

Jennifer Gilligan was a well-known figure in Darlington through her role as the long-serving secretary at St Teresa’s RC Primary School, along with other voluntary commitments to the parish.

Jennifer became a Eucharistic minister at St Teresa’s RC Church, arranged the church flowers, and regularly helped with the tea and cake stall at summer and Christmas fetes. She also made lifelong friendships during parish trips to Lourdes and Rome.

She died at home on December 28 with her son, David, and daughters, Louise and Maria by her side, following a long and courageous fight against cancer.

She also leaves eight grandchildren: Hannah, Jack, Joe, James, Elizabeth, Alex, Thomas, and Amelia.

David said: “Mam loved her family deeply and was passionate about St Teresa’s Parish life. She always liked a good chat, and was happiest when she was organising, travelling, or doing things with her varied social circle of friends.

“She also loved her job as school secretary and it was all the more rewarding for her, knowing that she was doing it for her beloved parish of St Teresa’s. She touched many lives and will be greatly missed.”

Father John Cooper, who led the funeral mass at St Teresa’s RC Church with Father Greg Price yesterday (Thursday), had known Jennifer since 1967.

He said: “Jennifer was always so happy, cheerful and positive, and that made her very special. It is very easy to become downhearted, but Jennifer was a great optimist, and I thank her for her friendship and kindness over the years."

Jennifer, who was 75, was born in Darlington, the first child of Eric and Mary Thompson, who had three other daughters, Elizabeth, Sheelagh, and Jacqueline.

She travelled extensively as a child due to her father serving in The Army, before returning to Darlington, where she met “the love of her life” – Michael Gilligan, who was an altar server at St Teresa’s Church.

The couple’s first date was to see The Sound of Music, in Newcastle, and they married in 1967.

Michael, who worked as a sub-editor for The Northern Echo, died from leukaemia in 1990. In his honour, The Mike Gilligan Prize became a feature of the annual North-East Press Awards.

Jennifer had been diagnosed with breast cancer in the mid-eighties, then lung cancer four years ago. She appeared to have recovered but was found to have a brain tumour in October.

Her funeral was followed by burial at West Cemetery. The family requested donations, in lieu of flowers, to St Teresa’s Hospice and cancer research.