The daughter of Liverpool sporting legend Tommy Smith is calling on football fans to unite with Alzheimer’s Society by joining the charity’s Memory Walk campaign to raise vital funds to beat dementia.
Janette Simpson was left devastated and the world of football was sent into mourning in April this year when Smith passed away from dementia at the age of 74 – four decades after securing his place in Liverpool folklore when he scored in a famous 3-1 win over Borussia Moenchengladbach in the 1977 European Cup final.
Now Janette, who lost both her mother and celebrated father to dementia, has made an emotional appeal as she prepared to take part in one of the flagship Memory Walks nationwide in September and October.
To mark its 40th anniversary year, Alzheimer’s Society is calling on everyone to join Janette and unite against dementia by signing up to take part in a Memory Walk.
Over the past 40 years, Alzheimer’s Society has brought dementia from a barely known disease out of the shadows, driving recognition across healthcare professionals to achieve better care and support.
Yet still research is hugely underfunded, at less than 0.5% of the total cost of the disease. Alzheimer’s Society is committed to spending at least £150 million over the next decade on dementia research to improve care for people today and find a cure for tomorrow.
Janette has been spurred on to join the Liverpool Memory Walk at Aintree Racecourse on Sunday, 29 September, by the memory of her parents, Susanne, and Tommy who is regarded as an Anfield icon.
Speaking about her support for Memory Walk, Janette said:
“Sadly, I know what a cruel disease Alzheimer’s can be because it affected both my parents and that’s made me determined to do whatever I can to help Alzheimer’s Society find a cure.
“Dementia can be devastating and I saw my Dad suffer the worst of both worlds as he cared lovingly for Mum when she was living with Alzheimer’s and then he developed it himself.
“It was really tough to take as we were so close but while those memories really hurt, Mum and Dad have inspired me to take part in my local Memory Walk.
“Dad helped Liverpool reach the pinnacle of English and European football and I want to help Alzheimer’s Society achieve something equally momentous – to find a cure for dementia – and while that progresses to help improve the care of so many people who have it today.
“It’s a gigantic challenge but Liverpool fans worldwide know that when you pull together then anything is possible so I’m hoping Reds everywhere will support Memory Walk. Recently, I’ve been really shocked to realise just how underfunded the care is for people with dementia, too, so I’m determined to do what I can to help the cause.”
Now Janette is setting her sights on helping Alzheimer’s Society raise millions of pounds for research, care and support through the charity’s Memory Walk flagship fundraising campaign, just months after saying farewell to her father.
The former Anfield skipper played 638 times for the Merseyside giants and despite a fearsome hard-man reputation, Janette fondly remembers him as a doting father and loving husband.
“He was a fantastic dad – loads of fun. He had a reputation as a big tough guy but he was just a big softie to me. He just loved family life and loved holidays, he loved rollercoasters and having fun. He was very hands-on and even loved shopping – he loved the colour red and always had a red car.
“As a carer he was really good with mum and it was very hard for him when dementia took hold of her. They’d been married 50 years so the shock of seeing mum go into care home sent him over the edge.”
Janette added: “He used to go after-dinner speaking and one night he was driving home and he rang asking, ‘Where am I?’ – he didn’t know which motorway to go on.
“In April of that year dad could go out shopping and for lunch in his car and he was fine but a few months later he had to give up driving and it had a massive effect on him.
“When I used to take him out people would come and say hello to him but because he didn’t know what was going on he could get very confused.
“After I did a piece with the Liverpool Echo they just nodded to me as if to say they understood. They used to come and shake his hand and talk to him but with him having vascular dementia he had little speech for the last three years, which was hard.”
“Dad was really fit. Had it not been for Alzheimer’s he would not have died so young. And he’d have been in the thick of it now. It feels as though he was robbed of his life.
“It saddens me that he’s not here but he’d have wanted me to be positive and that’s why I want to help raise funds and make dementia a thing of the past.”
Jeremy Hughes, Chief Executive Officer at Alzheimer’s Society, said:
“Families like Janette’s are being cruelly torn apart by dementia, and we urgently need more funding to help us find a cure so others no longer have to face its heart-breaking impact.
“Dementia is now the UK’s biggest killer with someone developing it every three minutes – yet dementia research still trails far behind other health conditions, after decades of underfunding.
“Until the day we beat dementia our researchers are working tirelessly to find ways to make quality of life better for people living with dementia in the UK and their carers too.
“In the hour-and-a-half it takes to complete an average Memory Walk, 30 people will develop dementia in the UK. That’s why we need football fans everywhere to follow Janette’s lead and take part in Memory Walk.”
Every penny raised through Memory Walk will help Alzheimer’s Society find a cure, improve care and provide care and support to people affected by dementia – register now at memorywalk.org.uk.