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"Thanks Dad..." - family of anti-smoking hero Gerry Collins bids farewell

The late Gerry Collins was remembered by his daughter Lisa at the HSE Heathcare Leaders Masterclass in the Convention Centre this month.

EARLIER THIS MONTH, senior healthcare managers gave a standing ovation to say thanks and goodbye to Gerry Collins.

Some knew him personally. Some did not. Regardless, he had touched the lives of everyone there – and inspired many more hundreds of thousands people he had never even met.

Gerry’s daughter Lisa spoke movingly in memory of her father at the event but had a special message for him: “Thanks Gerry, thanks Dad.”

What had this ordinary man done that was so extraordinary?

Gerry Collins passed away in early 2014. This was not his funeral, but another way of honouring this unique man – who inspired many Irish people to extend their own lives by giving up smoking for good.

Gerry’s story with the HSE started in 2011, when Gerry was first featured in a HSE QUIT campaign telling his story of recovery from tobacco-related throat cancer. In 2013, he contacted the HSE to let them know that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer.

Upon finding out his condition was terminal, he asked the HSE to let Irish people know about this new chapter in his story.

Not only this, but his family braved the spotlight to explain how Gerry’s cancer had affected their family and their lives. In fact, they were a key part of why Gerry decided to be part of this second campaign, saying he ”wanted to create something powerful and meaningful for his kids to look back on.”

His wishes were undeniably successful: smoking rates have reduced by 100,000 since Gerry’s QUIT campaign ads were first shown.

HSE Ireland / YouTube

Gerry was honoured at this month’s HSE Healthcare Leaders Masterclass in the Convention Centre to mark the final run of Gerry’s ads as part of the HSE’s campaign. The Director General, Tony O’Brien, acknowledged that after two and a half years, the time has come to move on from Gerry’s story.

He commended the courage of the Collins family and their unique generosity in allowing the HSE to use these adverts to lead the QUIT campaign since Gerry passed away in March 2014.

“We can only imagine the challenge for them, as they experienced this great loss, to at the same time have the courage to let Gerry’s face and words ring out across the airwaves – and even giving their time to take part in interviews to continue Gerry’s story and further spread his message,” he said.

Gerry’s daughter Lisa - who he describes in the ads as “rebellious… 100% genuine” and “a great laugh” – had this to say on behalf of her family at the event:

It is an honour for us to be here on behalf of Gerry. It’s been an amazing and unique journey over the last two and half years. Watching that footage is quite emotional, but it is very beautiful; and we are glad we have that.

“A question that comes around a lot is ‘what was it like for the family to do this kind of thing?’. I don’t think there is a particular answer. I think if you asked anyone of us on any particular given day, you’d get any given answer.

“I know it was harder for some than others, and that’s their contribution to the campaign. But I was talking to my sister, who is in the Middle East and couldn’t be here, and she reminded me of a bit more selfish reason why Dad did this, which was so we could do something good with the old man and to bring our family together at a time that had the potential to be quite dark and he did that and the QUIT Campaign did that for us and we are grateful.

lisa From left to right, Delly Collins, wife of the late Gerry Collins; his daughter Lisa; and Fidelma Browne, Head of Programme and Campaigns, HSE Communications Division.

“We really are so delighted that the ads have been so effective and the campaign has been so successful because so much hard work went into it, across the board.”

Lisa finished by saying:

Lastly, I want to thank the man himself, who obviously is not here with us today. I guess without him these particular ads would not have been made, and we believe without the essence of who he is, the ads would not have been what they are… Thanks Gerry, thanks Dad.

As well as Lisa, Gerry’s family, including wife Delly, mother Phyllis, brothers Paddy and Declan were present and given a standing ovation by health service senior management at the event.

HSE Ireland / YouTube

One in two smokers will die of a tobacco-related illness. World No Tobacco Day is Tuesday 31 May 2016. If you want to quit smoking, we can help. Here at QUIT, we have found that getting the right help and support will double your chances of success.  The QUIT Team are standing by, ready to help you.

Talk to the QUIT team

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