Remembering a rose
Texan Adrienne Hussey fell in love with Ireland after her star turn at the Rose of Tralee. But the 26-year-old suffered a fatal brain aneurysm, and now her grieving friends have set up a charity in her name.
'If she was your friend, she was your friend and anybody else who was not your friend had better watch out because you had Adrienne in your corner," says Niamh Sherlock about her friend and fellow 2010 Rose of Tralee contestant Adrienne Hussey.
The Texas Rose tragically died at the young age of 26 from a brain aneurysm. She had been living in Dublin for two months and her friends, many of whom she'd met through the Rose of Tralee festival, flocked to Beaumont Hospital when they heard she'd fallen ill in January 2012.
"It's hard to remember our friendships before Adrienne passed away," says Niamh, who was the Dublin Rose in 2010. "I think it's hard to remember that we weren't always this close because I think from the moment we got word that she'd been brought to hospital, we were all there, especially to keep vigil until her parents arrived from Texas."
In the aftermath of her death, Adrienne's friends wanted to do something in her memory that was also going to be of practical use in researching aneurysms. There is still much to be learnt about how aneurysms can be diagnosed and treated. In Adrienne's case, it's thought that the aneurysm was probably present since birth.
"Many of us in Ireland only knew Adrienne for two years and she was in America for a lot of that time as well," says her friend Barry Prendeville, who was a Rose escort in 2010. "But we felt that connection with her and while it was a short time that we might have known her, it felt like we'd known her her whole life.
"After she died, we were faced with a choice – either we accept this and sort of wallow in it or let it break us, or we could use it as an inspiration, use it to power on and do something good and hopefully help somebody.
"I've always said that if we can help even one person, it will have been worth doing. It's keeping Adrienne's name alive, too, and doing good in her name."
The group formed 'Friends of A', reflecting the fact that a lot of Adrienne's friends at home simply referred to her as 'A' and that nickname later caught hold with her Irish pals.
The charity has set up a research scholarship in association with the University of Limerick that will specifically look into brain aneurysms. Funding is being shared between the university and the charity, which means they have plans to fundraise both this year and every year.
"We have something going on nearly every month," says Niamh. "One of our big events will take place this August – it's a walk that will be just over 300 kilometres long and will start at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin and end in Tralee during the Rose of Tralee festival. There'll be a core group walking all of it but we hope to have some people in each county as we go.
"Aneurysms can happen at any time to anybody, anywhere, so it's important to us that a national message goes out and we can do that going through lots of counties."
The walk will poignantly start at the hospital where Adrienne was treated and end at the place that was a meeting point for her and her friends.
Niamh remembers getting to know Adrienne because she sat behind her on the festival bus.
"You're allocated seats in the Rose bus that goes around the country and you stay in the same seats for the whole tour.
"This mightn't mean anything to people who didn't know Adrienne, but a lot of girls will understand it when I say she had perfect eyebrows and she was really well known for that. I think that was our first point of conversation – me questioning how she got her eyebrows to look the way they did!"
Barry remembers first meeting her at a photo call where the escorts met the Roses for the first time.
"I was hiding back a bit from the photographers but Adrienne was the first Rose that I got a photo taken with. For a shy-ish, at the time anyway, West Clare lad to meet this Texan beauty who was so chatty . . . she had the country hat on too!"
Adrienne made friends easily and hit it off with her escort, Eoin Treanor, who later became her boyfriend.
He was one of the main motivations for her move to Dublin in late 2011.
"Obviously we like to think she came over just for us but it was also because she was following her heart," says Niamh. "She decided she wanted to come to Ireland . . . and she did. She thought about it, what to pack and she thought to contact us. But that was about it. She got on the plane and she arrived. And thank God she did because we had the best couple of months with her when she got over here.
"When people die at a young age or before they're meant to, you hear how they packed so much into their life. You hear that time and time again, and it was so true of Adrienne.
"She really wanted to get people together – she wanted us to know her friends at home and for them to know us too. It was only afterwards that we realised we had a support group of all her friends around the world so that we could help each other through what happened.
"Obviously that's not what her intention was but at the same time, all those things happened. Adrienne was so fearless and feisty and just a true friend in every sense of the word."
Adrienne was from Plano, Texas, and her family back home and relatives here are involved in the charity. Her boyfriend Eoin has also played a key part in its formation.
Adrienne had been a social worker back home, working with disadvantaged young people, and her friends say she had a great amount of compassion for others. That's reflected in the fact that she was an organ donor and after her premature death, her organs benefited the lives of seven Irish people.
Her sense of compassion is reflected in the support being given to 'Friends of A'.
"There's a lot of doom and gloom around the country but there is that bit of goodness left, and people are willing to help," says Barry. "One of the things that has struck me is that there are quite a few people who'd never met Adrienne, but when they heard about her story, they signed up to do sponsored runs for us or helped out with designing a logo and so on.
"From what I've seen over the last few months, I don't think I'll ever lose faith in people's generosity."
You can donate to the Adrienne Hussey Scholarship through www.ulfoundation.com. The 'Friends of A' charity can be contacted through www.friendsofa.ie or at firstname.lastname@example.org.