Denise cuts ribbon at charity memory walk

Denise cuts ribbon at charity memory walk

6 October 2021

CROSSGAR’S Denise Morgan helped cut the ribbon to mark the start of the recent Alzheimer’s Society Memory Walk.

And the hugely successful event was the first time that Denise was able to reunite with car dealer Ryan Harkness who is the same age as the former teacher’s daughter. 

The pair hit if off after Denise welcomed Ryan over the finish line at the 2019 fundraiser which was an emotional moment for Ryan — who hails from Carrickfergus — as he had lost his granny, Annie Crossett, to dementia just a year before.

Ryan told Denise about his special reason for doing the memory walk and they immediately bonded. He explained that when he took part in the walk, he did not think that he would get a friendship out of it.

“When I got talking to Denise about my granny, she just understood and told me that I had done her very proud,” Ryan recalled.

Ryan and Denise connected online after the event and kept in touch over the coming months, sharing messages about Ryan’s granny and her dementia journey. They always wanted to meet up again for a coffee but, as with many things, the coronavirus pandemic got in the way.

But the pair finally got to see each other again at the recent memory walk where they were invited to cut the ribbon by Bernadine McCrory, the charity’s Northern Ireland country director.

“It was so important to me to do walk for my granny,” said Ryan.

“Not a day goes by when I don’t wish she was here, but I can make her memory go on. And if I can do one thing to stop other people going through what our family went through, to help to find a cure, not tomorrow but down the line, if I can help to stop this disease, that’s what I’ll do.”

Ryan said he knows his granny would want him to do that, describing her as a “great woman” and revealing she always said that if you want something in life, to go out and get it, and if you see someone struggling in life, help them up.

Denise, who works in education, shares a similar outlook to Ryan, which perhaps explains why they get on so well.

She explained that the 2019 event was the first time she volunteered for Alzheimer’s Society.

“Dementia is such a cruel disease and I think that’s what drew me to lend my support,” she said.

“Ryan was the first person over the finish line at the walk and I made sure that we got his picture. Sometimes you just get a feeling that someone wants to talk and we had a really good chat on the day and we stayed in touch over Facebook messenger..”

Denise said the pair probably would never have met if it had not been for the memory walk and said it was “fantastic” to meet up with Ryan again and cheer him on at this year’s event.

The pair joined 850 people who united against dementia at the Belfast walk for the charity’s flagship fundraising walk at the Stormont estate on September 25.

And after cutting the ribbon Ryan was able to head off on the 6km route, while Denise had a busy day helping this year’s walkers.

Bernadine said she was really touched when she heard the story of how Denise and Ryan met and how they were the perfect people to open this year’s event.

“We are in awe of our incredible fundraisers, like Ryan, who turned out in their hundreds to support the 22,000 people living with dementia in Northern Ireland,” the charity official continued.

“And we also have the most amazing team of volunteers like Denise and without their support fundraising events like this just wouldn’t be possible. It was extremely moving to see so many people come together to honour or remember their loved ones on Saturday.”

Bernadine described the impact of the pandemic on people with dementia as “catastrophic” and revealed that Alzheimer’s Society’s services were used over six million times since lockdown began in March 2020. 

She added: “Every pound raised from the Stormont memory walk will help Alzheimer’s Society provide information and support, improve care, fund research and create lasting change for people affected by dementia. 

“I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has helped make this year’s Memory Walk such a brilliant success.”