Pensions victory NI woman: I don’t know how I was able to carry on

Denise Brewster met her partner Lenny McMullan when she was at college
Denise Brewster met her partner Lenny McMullan when she was at college
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A Northern Ireland woman whose victory in a seven-year legal battle will benefit unmarried couples across the UK says she does not know where she got the strength to carry on after the death of her partner in 2009.

Denise Brewster, who is originally from Lurgan but now lives in Coleraine, became embroiled in the legal fight, culminating in a Supreme Court ruling in her favour last week, after being denied payments from her late long-term partner’s occupational pension from Translink.

Denise told the News Letter: “Sometimes I look back and think how did I take this all on but there was a pit in my stomach driving me on.”

Denise lost her partner, Lenny McMullan, in the most tragic of circumstances. The couple had been together for 15 years and had lived together for 10. They got engaged on Christmas Eve 2009 but Mr McMullan died suddenly between Christmas night and the early hours of Boxing Day morning.

“We grew up together,” she said.

“You think of yourselves as a ‘two’ but then one goes and, yes, you’re mourning your loss but at some stage it kicks in and you ask ‘how are you going to be?’ How are you going to go through life as one person on your own?’

“We met when I was at college and we went through nearly our whole lives together. He would say he was so happy.

“He would come home from work, put on the dinner, and sit out in the back garden and watch the birds roosting in the trees.

“He would joke about the pensioners making noise and he would just laugh and say ‘I am so happy, I am so content’.

“He had that way about him, that unique funniness about him, joking about the pensioners making all the noise. I’m glad I had him in my life, that we had that time and now I can just look back and remember the good times.”

Denise recalled being told she wasn’t entitled to pension payments: “It was extremely difficult. In fact, when I look back on it I don’t let my mind take myself back there. I have to always talk about looking forward. When I do look back I think ‘how did I get through it’.

“A big part of that was having a good support network around me. That’s how I did get through it – my family, friends and really good work colleagues who pulled in around me and really looked after me.

“I am active and I go out walking and mountain climbing and those sort of activities helped me, sort of replenish the soul again.”

She continued: “It was like hitting my head against a wall but I was never more determined about anything than I was with this.”