Keeping the memory alive

Published on 01 January 2010
Source: Arthritis Today

Sally Morris and her four children - James, Jake, Hattie and Gabby

After Sally Morris’s beloved husband Clive died from complications of rheumatoid arthritis, she decided to throw herself into raising money for Arthritis Research UK. Sally told Arthritis Today what motivates her.

Clive Morris was just 50 when he died from complications of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) two years ago.

Clive, larger than life, hard-working and devoted to his wife and family, had developed the condition 15 years earlier, but despite his deteriorating health, continued to work as an IT project manager until shortly before his death.

“Clive did a lot of flying for work and he developed DVT and a pulmonary embolism, and six months later was diagnosed with RA, although we don’t know if there was any sort of connection,” explains his widow Sally, who lives in Coventry with two of the couple’s younger children, daughters Hattie, aged ten, and Gabby, 15. Their two older boys, 21-year-old James and Jake, aged 19, are both at university.

After his diagnosis, Clive was put on a succession of drugs to control his condition but, from the first, suffered a series of bad reactions, and developed a number of complications. Sulphasalazine ruined his digestive tract, and although methotrexate was effective in controlling flares, he contracted ulcers, and his immune system was badly compromised. Clive also had septicaemia, and developed a lump on his neck which was found to be cancerous. He and Sally had just returned from a 25th wedding anniversary cruise when they were told he had only weeks to live. Clive died in October 2007.

"Clive was an incredible man; he used to go to work in absolute agony. His hands would be like sausages, and his knees and ankles were very badly swollen much of the time, but he was one of those men who would not give up,” remembers Sally, now 50.

"He lived for me and the kids, and was a larger-than-life personality. I can see him now, standing on the touchline in complete agony watching his sons playing rugby.”

After his death, Sally, a fitness instructor, who was already involved in running various charity events, made a conscious decision to do something to keep Clive’s memory alive.

“I said to the children that I felt we should do something so that their dad’s death was not in vain, and that it was something I felt strongly about. They said straight away: ‘what can we do?’ ”

“I thought about raising money for either a cancer or an arthritis charity, but cancer gets so much money anyway, and people look at arthritis and think you can’t die from it, and dismiss it. But I saw one of Arthritis Research UK’s fantastic posters that says: ‘Arthritis may not kill you but it can take your life’ and thought that was exactly right.”

Her first fundraising event was a memorial ball for Clive, complete with an Elvis impersonator (Clive had been a huge Elvis fan). A second ball, at the Meriden Hotel in Coventry which the whole family attended, followed this year, before Sally, who is extremely fit after 30 years in the fitness business, decided to do something a little more physically strenuous – a successful London to Paris cycle ride with her sons over three days.

“Despite training, the boys found it quite tough, and I teased them about not being able to keep up with their old mum!” Sally recalls. The events have so far raised more than £5,000 for Arthritis Research UK, with another ball and other events planned for 2010.

Fred Johnson, regional fundraising manager for the charity in South Wales and the West Midlands, says that Sally’s energy and willingness to raise money is inspirational. “She works tirelessly to raise money for Arthritis Research UK despite looking after four children and having a demanding career,” he says. “She is always thinking about her next fundraising idea. I only wish there were a lot more Sallys in Wales and the Midlands.”

Sally’s children have always been very supportive of her fundraising efforts. “From the start, after Clive’s death, I always gave them the option of getting involved or not, and if they hadn’t wanted to, then I wouldn’t have done it,” she says.

Her children, a demanding job, and all her fundraising commitments have kept Sally very busy since Clive’s death, deliberately so. “That’s the way I like it, and it helps me,” she acknowledges. “People have said to me that I’ve not given myself time to stop and grieve, and I probably need to allow myself to do that. But it’s a two-way thing. It’s been good for the children – and for me – to do something worthwhile.”

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