On Sept. 3, Bill Morris would have turned 90.
On Sept. 15, the day of the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Canandaigua, his family is planning to celebrate.
“We’re kind of making this a celebration of his life, and at the same time, raising funds for awareness and research to help end this awful disease,” says his daughter Beth Valvano of Canandaigua.
Beth’s team, Bill’s Buddies, will once again walk in his honor, and they’ve set their goal high — $5,000 — to mark the occasion.
Bill, who grew up in Utica, was a World War II veteran and a prisoner of war who survived the infamous Stalag 17. He and his wife Ruth raised five children in Canandaigua, where he owned the two Wayne Drug pharmacy stores for nearly 40 years.
“We’re going to try to get some of the relatives from the Utica area to come and walk, as well as friends and family who support us every year, and we’re going to have a luncheon after and a Mass at St. Mary’s that night,” says his daughter Patti Horton of Penfield.
Bill was diagnosed with dementia in 1991 after a seizure. The disease slowly took away the man who loved to sing and dance, who loved his work and who loved the people around him.
“He would be kind of like the life of the party. He had no problem carrying the conversation and people would follow. But as it started to progress, he got quiet,” Beth says.
“Our mom would say to him, ‘You were quiet tonight,’ and he’d said, ‘I feel like I’m going to say the wrong thing.’”
His illness was slow-progressing, and he was able to stay at home for several years before his needs became too great for his family to meet alone. In 1998, his family moved him to the M.M. Ewing Continuing Care Center at Thompson Hospital.
“We said good-bye to the real dad years before he went to the Gardens,” the center’s dementia care wing, Beth says.
The family visited nearly every day. At the Gardens, Bill found moments of joy in Christmas carols sung by community groups and moments of purpose in using his knowledge as a pharmacist to discuss medications with the doctors.
On Dec. 31, 2003, Bill Morris succumbed to the disease. He was 81.
His daughters look back on the years their family cared for their father and know they did everything they could for him. And now, they say, the Walk is an extension of that.
“This is really kind of for him and for others and the thousands of people affected by this disease,” Beth says.
Speaking out about Alzheimer’s and becoming an advocate are empowering, Patti says.
“It really gets you going and it changes your focus on this horrible disease to what can we do. We need to move forward. We need to raise funds. We need to make people aware.”
By taking up this cause, the Morris family carries on Bill’s legacy of caring for those around him and making a difference in his community.
“Honestly, I think he would be thumbs up, proud to see us get involved and do the walk for something we truly believe in,” Beth says.