Mother of missing Fiona Pender dies after lengthy battle with illness, tributes paid
'There is great sadness that Josephine did not live to see closure of the mystery of Fiona's disappearance'
The mother of missing woman Fiona Pender has died.
Josephine Pender, a staunch campaigner, passed away after a lengthy battle with illness this afternoon, Independent.ie has learned.
Her death comes just three weeks after the 21st anniversary of her daughter Fiona's disappearance.
Fiona was seven months pregnant when she went missing from her flat on Church Street, Tullamore, Co Offaly on August 23, 1996.
Despite a number of recent searches and digs there has been no trace of the missing woman.
Fiona’s brother Mark was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1995 and their father, Seán, took his own life in 2000.
Monsignor Sean Heaney led tributes to Mrs Pender this afternoon say they community of Tullamore was greatly saddened by her death.
"Josephine became a national figure in her campaign to find the remains of her daughter Fiona and her unborn child who disappeared in 1n 1996. Her determination and single mindedness has been an inspiration to many people who are similarly tortured by the unsolved mystery of the disappearance of a loved family member.
Monsignor Heaney said there is "great sadness that Josephine did not live to see closure of the mystery of Fiona's disappearance".
"In all her suffering Josephine was sustained by a strong faith in God, and a belief that the mystery will eventually be solved. In all her distraction Josephine had a huge capacity to show warmth and respect for everyone who supported her in her long drawn out quest for an end to her torment. "
Josephine Pender, who was in her late 60s, spoke last August 23 - the anniversary of Fiona's disappearance - about the toll the search was having on her.
She told RTE that she would beg for anyone with information to come forward at this stage.
She stated that she didn't even care about punishment any more.
She said she wanted to lay her to rest "with her daddy and her brother", saying she did not think that was much to ask.
Mrs Pender said she thought of her daughter's unborn baby a lot stating that it was terrible to think that someone could harm them.
She said she would never give up the fight for Fiona.
Mrs Pender's surviving son John was being comforted at the family home this afternoon.
- Read More: 'Please, please, tell me where my Fiona is buried' - Mum begs chief suspect in case of missing pregnant woman
According to Monsignor Heaney Mrs Pender worked in the Tullamore parish for many years, firstly with the Parish Support Services and in more recent years as a part time receptionist in the Parish Centre.
"We offer deepest sympathy to her family and her friends. I know that this will be an opportunity for everyone to show sympathy to her family and to express admiration for her inspiring struggle for closure on the loss of her daughter and unborn grandchild," he said.
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan also extended his sympathies to Mrs Pender's loved ones as he reflected on their "long number of heartbreaking years."
He said: "My sympathy & condolences to the Pender family at this sad time.
"The family have endured tragedy and sadness over a long number of heartbreaking years since Fiona's disappearance."