With the loss of Thelma Sheil on January 6th 2011, All Children Together (ACT) has lost one of its finest foundation members, most creative writers and dearest colleagues.
Thelma’s life was dedicated to reconciliation and her love for young people also shone through everything she undertook.
When her children were attending Ballyholme Primary School in Bangor in the 1969, Thelma met Bettie Benton whose children were attending the same school. They went on to have frequent conversations about the possibility of setting up an organisation to bring Catholic and Protestant children in Northern Ireland together in school. Thelma well remembered when Bettie first suggested the name ‘All Children Together’ for such an organisation and indeed it was on Thelma’s old typewriter that the famous logo for ACT was first designed.
Catholic parents ran cathecism classes for their children at week-ends. It was from this group that some of them first established ACT in 1972. It became interdenominational in 1974, and Thelma, Bill Brown and Margaret Kennedy would become the first Protestant parents to join – though. Thelma used to say she felt she had been a member from the start as she did so much typing for the original group of Catholic parents, including the Appeal sent to the Vatican.
Attending the Ulster Polytechnic as it was then called (now the University of Ulster), in 1982 Thelma completed a B.Ed. majoring in Communication Studies. This added to her innate gift for clear and simple writing and made her an invaluable member of the ACT Board. She was a master of simplifying the language used in many ACT government submissions and press releases. Thelma went on to serve on the ACT Board both as Membership and Hon Secretary respectively.
In 2003, when the work of writing the history of All Children Together began with Dr. Jonathan Bardon, Thelma, then retired, seemed to obtain a new lease of life, never missing a meeting. At a conference on Human Rights in 2007, it was Thelma who spoke to Mary Robinson about the book, and as a result of this meeting the former President of Ireland agreed to write the Preface for the book. It was Thelma again who wrote the lovely dedication for the ACT history:*
To the parents who entrusted their children to the new concept of integrated education and to the teachers who were braveenough to step out and support them, but, above all, to the children who made our vision a reality by just going to school together in Northern Ireland and to their children and grandchildren.
The former Directors of ACT extend their deepest sympathy to Thelma’s children Karen and Philip, her brother Noel and the wider family circle. And while missing her daily, they are so grateful that she saw ACT’s history published and was present when the book was launched in 2010 in Belfast, Derry, Liverpool and Dublin. May she rest in peace.