Sylvia Dawson, who passed away on 4 July 2011, was a founding member of the County Longford Association for the Mentally Handicapped (now St Christopher’s Services) in 1964, and she played a very prominent role in the development of services for children and adults with an intellectual disability for over four decades.
Sylvia was born in February 1916. She was a theatre nurse by profession, and in the 1950s she came with her husband Carson to live in Legan, Co. Longford, where they ran a dairy farm.
In the early 1960s Mrs Dawson became very conscious of the lack of services for children with intellectual disabilities and their families. In September 1964 she persuaded a number of parents, acquaintances and friends to join her in setting up a Parents and Friends Association for County Longford. Around this time she heard about the formation of an organisation in Dublin (St Michael’s House), dedicated to providing community-based services for children with an intellectual disability. After consulting with Dr Barbara Stokes and Patsy Farrell (amongst others), she decided to set up a similar type of service in County Longford.
As with all new concepts, Ms Dawson and her small dedicated committee encountered many obstacles along the way, but they persevered and in 1974 they were given official recognition for St Christopher’s Special School by the Department of Education.
Amongst the other milestones reached was the establishment of the post-school services for adults in 1978, with the setting.up of the Vocational Training Unit, and the opening of the first community house, Morlea House in 1992.
Ms Dawson was for many years a member of the National Association of the Mentally Handicapped in Ireland (now Inclusion Ireland). She was also St Christopher’s representative to the National Federation of Voluntary Bodies and played a very active role in the Longford Sector Team, a committee set up by the then Midland Health Board to plan and develop services for children and adults with an intellectual disability in Co. Longford from the mid-1990s.
In recognition of the great work carried out by Ms Dawson through the years, the Management Committee were very pleased when she agreed to have a new multi.purpose unit (for music, dance, speech and drama etc) named after her. This new facility, Sylvia Dawson Hall, was officially opened by her esteemed, longtime friend Stephen Kealy on 7May 2010-
Sylvia Dawson will long be remembered with fondness and respect by all those involved with intellectual disability in Co. Longford and beyond. She is survived by her sons Robert and Philip, her daughters Jennifer and Valerie, extended family and her many friends, especially those in St Christopher’s.
May she rest in peace.