When the Alzheimer Society of Ontario began the Champions for Dementia initiative in 2010, we were seeking to engage people with lived experience of dementia in advocacy activities with their Members of Provincial Parliament (MPP) and the Ontario government.
I remember receiving notice from the Alzheimer Society of Oxford that they had identified a perfect candidate to be their Dementia Champion – Al Burridge.
From day one, Al was a model Dementia Champion. Soon after joining, Ontario had an election. While Al was volunteering at a local fundraising and awareness event known as Coffee Break®, staff member Beth Haas remembers he had a natural ability to identify electoral candidates and talk to them about dementia. “The weather was good that day so Al and I set-up outside for a few hours during Coffee Break. Al not only recognized the candidates, even the lesser-known ones, but nabbed them to tell them about dementia and how the Alzheimer Society is advocating for improved care. He was charming, well-spoken and literate; no one could dismiss him or sidle off! ” remembers Beth.
Locally, Al was involved as a spokesperson. He met with his MPP several times, was guest speaker at the Alzheimer Society of Oxford Golf tournament, and was MC at the intergenerational Choir performance. He also spoke with media, including Heart FM, Rogers TV, and local newspapers. Whatever the task, Al assumed his role with great gravity and earnestness. He always reviewed what the present focus was, ensuring he understood the message so he could convey that to his listeners. He was 100% convincing because he truly believed the message.
He recognized that to effect change he needed to be heard at both the provincial and national level. He worked with our National office to develop an ethical framework for engaging people with dementia in Alzheimer Society work, and he had recently expressed interest in joining an advocacy group led by people living with dementia called the Ontario Dementia Advisory Group. This group is focused on the development of an Ontario Dementia Strategy and actively advocates for the engagement of people with dementia in public policy decision-making that will affect their lives.
On April 10th of this year, Al and staff member Robyn Fox met with their MPP to personally invite him to the Alzheimer Society Queen’s Park Day. The week after he was scheduled to meet with the Ontario Dementia Advisory group for the first time, but I received a call from his wife Maureen (Mo) advising that Al would be having surgery and wouldn’t be able to participate as anticipated but that he would like to be kept informed of the work underway. On April 27th Al went in for surgery, and sadly he did not recover. He passed away on May 14th.
Al was an impressive and active advocate for people with dementia for many years. He gave of his time so liberally and always gave thanks to his wife Mo, without whom he could not have organized himself as effectively.
Beth says it best – “Al was rarely without a smile or an anecdote. He was hospitable and reflected frequently on life’s little quirks finding all around him something of interest and curiosity.”
He was a wonderful example of someone living well with dementia.
Thank you Al. We miss you already.
Delia Sinclair Frigault – Public Policy and Stakeholder Relations Coordinator
Alzheimer Society of Ontario
Shelley Green – Executive Director
Robyn Fox – Volunteer Companion Coordinator
Beth Haas – Behavioural Support Worker
Alzheimer Society of Oxford