Patricia Donnelly, head of the Covid pandemic vaccine: I am naturally optimistic and I always play the Glad game

1 Up and at it – what’s your morning routine?

If it’s a work day, I need at least an hour to walk around, but this time of year I try to eat breakfast outside. I now live in the countryside, having moved from Belfast to Lagan Valley during the pandemic – which was a challenge – and the birdsong is a great start to the day.

2 What might you eat on a typical working day during…

Breakfast? Usually just a piece of toast – add a poached egg on weekends.

Lunch? I’m famous for rarely having lunch, unless it’s a special occasion.

Dinner? We eat very differently at home now – very little red meat, a variety of fish and lots of vegetables.

3 Is nutrition important to you – do you take any supplements?

Absolutely – year-round vitamin D, because you don’t really get enough sunlight. Vitamin B12 has also become important to me as I eat less animal protein, so it helps maintain my energy levels.

4 Have you ever been on a diet? If yes, how did it happen?

I follow one of the cautionary tales of people who have dieted since early adulthood with diminishing returns over time. I now know that it’s better to eat healthy and just enjoy the food without being a slave to it.

5 Weekend treat?

Descend in Fermanagh to beautiful Lough Erne. No matter the weather, mind and body are uplifted by being in the open air and traveling on the water. It can be more difficult in bad weather, but it never disappoints.

6 How do you stay physically and mentally fit?

As we got older, things changed a lot when it came to maintaining fitness, especially during the pandemic when being confined to the office was an issue. I used to ride a bike, but now walking is easier. My mental health is very resilient as I am naturally optimistic and still play the Glad Game. I’m also very disciplined about worrying – once I make a plan to deal with what triggers the worry, I can push it completely out of my mind.

7 Best tip for everyday fitness?

For those heading into 70 like me – little and often – like everything. A little walking, a little activity that gets your heart pumping, doing daily activities with energy. Those of us who worked long hours behind a desk during the pandemic all noticed how physical fitness deteriorated and it was also harder to have a routine. Since stepping away from the vaccination program, it was all about getting back to basics with the impetus and support of my sister, Linda.

8 Were you a fan of school sports/EPS or do you have a memory of that time that you would rather forget?

I went to Rathmore – a school for girls at the time. My old classmates will tell you that few of us liked physical education, but give us any competitive sport and we were fully engaged.

9 Teetotal or drink?

Definitely a drink – a nice glass of wine or one of the lovely specialty gins on occasion. Sparkling for special occasions.

10 Staircase or elevator?

A dodgy right knee (a garden fork went through it when I was seven) means the elevator goes up and the stairs go down.

11 What book are you currently reading?

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens – an intriguing story about a young girl’s isolation, resilience and survival in North Carolina. I’m a voracious reader and I’m never without a Kindle.

12 best Netflix?

I totally loved Queen’s Gambit about the young chess genius who took on the establishment in the 1960s. It’s based on the experiences of several high-achieving women in the chess world, but brilliantly played by Anya Taylor Joy.

13 The most surprising thing you learned about yourself during the pandemic?

That I’m a Duracell bunny – I can just go on, seven days a week, working long hours and still working well. I’m well known for being quite unflappable, but it’s also reassuring to know that I can carry on when needed.

14 New skills or hobbies?

I love finding time for old hobbies – reading, sewing, doing crosswords, playing guitar – and being on the lakes of Fermanagh.

15 How do you relax?

All of my hobbies involve different kinds of relaxation – so a few minutes playing the guitar is very refreshing, a walk on the towpath can be soothing, a board game with my grandsons is hilarious and a kayaking can be exhilarating.

16 What are your objectives for 2022?

There’s almost too much to identify: more time with family, improving fitness, completing home renovations, developing the NI 10-Year Strategy for Bereavement Care in my role as NI Bereavement President. Network…

17 What time do you go to bed and do you think you get enough sleep?

After 10 p.m. on a work night – except Sunday night when it takes a lot longer to fall asleep with so much to think about before another week starts. But I can always get an all-nighter for work or pleasure if I need to.

18 Biggest gripe?

Time passes too quickly as you age. It always seems like you have to wait so long for special events when you’re young, but now I can’t believe how fast my grandsons have grown up. I just want to slow down time now and enjoy it all.

19 Have your priorities in life or outlook changed?

Family has always been the priority, but it took precedence during the immunization program when my husband, Michael, spent most of his time alone. We’ve been together for almost 50 years, but our time during the pandemic has been invaluable. I missed my son, James, my grandsons Oliver and Teddy and my daughter-in-law Ashley, when visits were so restricted.

20 Has the coronavirus changed your attitude towards your own mortality?

It was a huge reminder that you can’t take anything for granted, especially health. Each year is precious now and the memories too fleeting, so I try to live each experience (good and bad) in a “slow” time.

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