Large numbers of mourners are expected to gather in Lisburn on Saturday morning to say farewell to local woman Heather Neill, who was killed in a road crash at the weekend.
The 58-year-old retired teacher died after the car she was driving was involved in a collision with a bus on the Moneynick Road, near Randalstown on Sunday afternoon.
Pastor George Hilary, who will conduct the funeral service at Lisburn Christian Fellowship, described the married mother-of-two as “a unique and much-loved individual” who will be greatly missed.
“She was a committed Christian who wore her heart on her sleeve, She was caring, prayerful and sensitive to others’ needs. Above all, she was creative, imaginative even flamboyant in life, attitude, dress and hairdo! Heather was never dull and boring,” Pastor Hilary said.
“She was greatly loved by all at Lisburn Christian Fellowship, her spiritual home for many years.
“As an ‘ideas person’ she led us to offer prayerful hugs in Market Square, nail art in Hill Street, creative flower arrangements with our women and made little presents with Bible verses for her house group.
“She also channelled her natural exuberance into her worship and prayer as well as being a very caring person, compassionate towards those facing the challenges of life.
“Shy as a youngster, she became a confident, witty, outgoing woman, encouraging and inspiring. She was a joy to be with.
“Heather had a large circle of friends and family. She invested much in the people she knew and her sudden death has impoverished us all. Heather truly was much-loved and she will be greatly missed.”
Mrs Neill, who retired last year, taught at Dromore High School for more than three decades and was Head of Business Studies for over 20 years.
There has been widespread shock and sadness at the news of her passing, with former colleagues and pupils paying glowing tributes to a much-loved teacher.
The former principal of Dromore High, John Wilkinson, said Mrs Neill had impacted the lives of many young people, both in her classes and as leader of the school’s Scripture Union.
“As a vivacious, fun-loving and extremely caring member of staff she was loved by pupils and staff alike. Many of us will remember her quirky hairstyles, face painting and nail art. But most of all her sincere Christian faith and love for all with whom she came in contact epitomised the way in which she lived out her life,” he said.
“Of course Heather’s immediate family - her husband David, daughter Holly and son Scott - will be greatly impacted by this tragic accident and we are mindful of them at this time. We wish God’s blessing upon them all at this time.”
Another of Mrs Neill’s former colleagues, Renne Marshall, posted a tribute to her friend on Facebook.
“I’m lost for words Heather Neill you were a wonderful teacher, colleague and friend. All the pupils loved you, especially my Chris, with your wacky hair colour your 3, 4 inch heels - how you walked them all day I don’t know. You always had a smile on your face every day. I loved working with you. You will be so missed by all. Thinking of your love ones,” she wrote.
Lisburn DUP Alderman Paul Porter said his family was close to Mrs Neill’s and was devastated by the tragic news of her passing.
“Heather was a wonderful lady who was respected by everyone,” he said. “If you met her your life was truly touched. My thoughts and prayers are with her family at this time.”
Dromore Alderman Paul Rankin and former Lagan Valley DUP MLA Jonathan Craig, whose daughter is a GCSE pupil at Dromore High, also expressed their shock and sadness at Mrs Neill’s death.
Alderman Rankin described her passing as “absolutely tragic” and expressed his deepest condolences to the Neill family, while Cllr Craig said: “My daughter was very annoyed when she heard the sad news. She described Mrs Neill as one of the best teachers she ever had and said she was an incredibly caring individual who was well liked and respected by everyone at the school.”
Mrs Neill’s funeral will take place at Lisburn Christian Fellowship, Queens Road on Saturday at 10am, then on to Roselawn Crematorium for 12pm.