Trailblazing Nobel Peace Laureate Betty Williams Dies in Belfast


An article from the Nobel Women’s Initiative

Nobel peace laureate, Betty Williams, was a force of nature. She was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 1976 alongside Mairead Maguire for their work for peace in Northern Ireland. Betty once said, “Fear’s contagious, but so is courage.” Looking back on all that she has accomplished, it couldn’t have been more true.

Photo courtesy of the PeaceJam Foundation.

Betty and Mairead met under tragic circumstances. Earlier that year Betty witnessed a horrible car crash. A runaway car driven by Irish Republican Army member Danny Lennon, who had been fatally shot while fleeing from British soldiers, crashed into a family of four who were out for a walk. All three children; Joanne, John, and Andrew, were killed. Betty immediately sprung into action, circulating petitions. In the process she met the children’s aunt, Mairead Maguire.

Determined to use this tragedy to push for an end to the violence, Betty and Mairead organized a peace march. More than 10,000 Protestant and Catholic women came to show their support. The following week, 35,000 people marched with Betty and Mairead, demanding an end to the violence in their country.

Alongside journalist Ciaran McKeown, the two women co-founded /Peace People, an organization dedicated to nonviolence in Northern Ireland and throughout the world. In the thirty years since the award, Williams devoted her life to working for peace around the world, and a movement to begin a reversal of thinking on how we deal with the injustices, cruelty and horror perpetuated on the world’s children.

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Betty was the head of the World Centers of Compassion for Children International, which was founded in 1997 in honour of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. She was also the Chair of Institute for Asian Democracy in Washington D.C. and a founding member of the Nobel Women’s Initiative. She was the recipient of dozens of honours, including the Schweitzer Medallion for Courage and the Eleanor Roosevelt Award.

Betty passed away on March 18 in Belfast. Her legacy and incredible work for peace  in Northern Ireland, and the rights of children in war everywhere, will never be forgotten. She will be greatly missed. We send our deepest condolences, solidarity and love to her family and friends at this difficult time.

Condolences from Fellow Laureates

“It is with the greatest sadness that I heard of the death of my friend and co-worker for peace Betty Williams. Betty was a woman of great courage with a passion for peace and a love and compassion for all children. Betty will be sadly missed but remembered lovingly by all of us who knew Betty. I felt privileged to know her as a great peace activist and friend.” – Nobel peace laureate, Mairead Maguire.

“Betty was a dynamo – a force of nature that left a big mark in the world. She will be missed.” – Nobel peace laureate, Jody Williams.

Read more tributes

Read this beautiful tribute from Nobel peace laureate Mairead Maguire at Peace People.

Read these touching words about Betty from His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Read moving obituaries from the New York Times  and the BBC.