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Rosemary Stewart, 1970-2003

Rosie Stewart (née Gallagher) passed away on 16 August 2003 from cancer, aged just 33.

Rosie was born in Derry on 19 February 1970. She was educated at Thornhill College and Leicester University, graduating in 1991 with a BSc (Hons) in Geophysics. She took employment in Belfast as a geophysicist with a construction engineering firm, eventually moving into site investigation. In 2001 Rosie spent nine months as Resident Engineer in charge of the site investigation for the Galway County Water Scheme. Following this long stint of on-site work she decided to take a position as Contracts Manager with a pipe rehabilitation firm, close to her new home in Banbridge, Co. Down.

It was shortly after taking on her new role in early 2002 that Rosie was diagnosed with breast cancer and a punishing regime of surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy ensued. Despite suffering terrible sickness as a result of the chemotherapy Rosie insisted on returning to work during the weeks between treatments. She was determined that no one should know about her illness as she did not want to be pitied. Her resilience was further proved when she attended hospital for radiotherapy during lunch hours.

It was while at university that Rosie was introduced to the sport of women’s rugby. She took immediately to it and became one of the founding players of the sport in Ulster. Rosie’s drive, enthusiasm and natural leadership ability led to her becoming one of the main movers behind the game in Ireland. She played for Ulster Women for several years and eventually received four caps for the Irish Women’s side in 2000. Following her retirement from the game Rosie remained very active on the committee of the Ulster Women’s team and her club side, Cooke WRFC.

It was through rugby that she met Adrian Stewart. Together since 1992 they were planning their marriage for summer 2002 when Rosie received her diagnosis. The wedding was brought forward to allow Rosie to start chemotherapy a few days after the ceremony.

Rosie’s inspirational character again came to the fore when, six months after chemotherapy, she completed a 500 length swim to raise money for her local Action Cancer group.

Unfortunately, in August 2003, tests revealed widespread secondary cancer, to which Rosie succumbed two weeks later. In those two weeks her courage was inspirational. The few tears that were shed were shed for her husband and family, not for herself.

The warmth of Rosie’s personality cannot be overstated. To meet her once was to feel like you had known her all your life. Her huge, ever-present and infectious smile won over everyone she encountered. She had a gift for making people feel special without really trying. This was reflected in the huge turn out at her funeral, which included members of the rugby fraternity from all over Ulster and Ireland and three of Ireland’s World Cup squad. The common consensus was that Rosie had crammed more living into her short life than most manage to fit into twice the span.

Adrian Stewart