THERE is no question that Mary Fanning, who died last Wednesday, will be deeply mourned by her family, friends and former colleagues. But there are many thousands more who will miss her without ever having even met her.
As Director of Public Health Nursing in Cork's South Lee for the past 12 years, Mary led a team of managers and staff tasked with caring for a population of 193,000.
And while that role presented her with many challenges from both within and without the bureaucracy of the HSE, she faced and overcame each and every obstacle with an unstinting grace and professionalism that allowed her to remain the "quiet and private person" her husband, Connell, spoke of last Wednesday, just hours after she passed following a short illness.
Away from her professional life and all the demands and responsibilities it presented, Mary Fanning liked nothing more than to be at home with Connell whom she first met in Tralee, Co Kerry in the summer of 1967 when she was just 17 and he was 18.
Apart from her love of a good book which she enjoyed reading on her 'Kindle' (one of her few concessions to modern technology), Mary derived joy from her daily walks in all weathers with her Golden Retriever, Amber, and her Spaniel Retriever Labrador, Pepper, which she affectionately referred to as her "beautiful babies".
"Her life was a very simple one. She was a very private person. She wasn't a person who had a wide circle of friends. Her life was at home with me, her life was our daughter Saranna and Mike who came into Saranna's life and become part of our family. Her life was our family, her dogs and her home which she kept beautifully, and her garden where she found great comfort and solace during the many hours she spent there. She was never one for pride, but quietly she took great joy in Saranna and all that she has achieved in her own life," Connell said of his late wife.
Outside of Mary's home and her career, the thing that gave her special satisfaction was her work for the national programme for Kosovar refugees in 1999, which brought her to Macedonia to organise and bring 300 refugees to Ireland.
Born Mary Irwin in Tralee, Co Kerry on August 3, 1951, she attended the Mercy Convent in Moyper Well, before going on to study nursing at the Bons Secours Hospital in Cork from where she graduated in 1973. Mary completed her midwifery studies with a silver medal in the Rotunda Hospital in 1982 while studying for and obtaining a Diploma in Hospital Administration from the Institute of Hospital Administration. In 1997, she graduated with honours from the nursing programme at UCC.
While she was never a career-driven person, Mary Fanning's ability and dedication to her work saw her promoted several times over during her near 40-year career in the public health service.
Former colleagues paid tribute to her last Friday for her professionalism, dedication and above all for the fairness which she brought to every decision she had to make.
Recognising the vast contribution Mary had made to their own work and to their lives, one former colleague told the Sunday Independent: "Her leadership helped to maintain dignity, respect and justice. She was down to earth, a loyal and trusted colleague and friend. Whether it was work or a personal difficulty, she was able to lift the burden from your shoulders.
"It's said that when we succeed in being gracious and gentle with ourselves and others, we truly inherit inner peace. Mary had definitely reached that potential in her working life. She made a difference and she will be sorely missed."