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An early educator on AIDS

Woman whose son died at age 11 took it upon herself to teach the community about the disease.

August 18, 2010|By Jon Haber
(Raul Roa )

Despite personal struggles in her life, Glendale resident Judith Ritchie hasn't let any challenge stop her from educating and giving back to a community she has called home since she was 4 months old.

In 1992, Ritchie lost her then-11-year-old son, Alan, to AIDS. Alan had contracted the disease through a blood transfusion when he was 2 days old, and he was diagnosed with HIV in 1988. Although she lost her son at a young age, Ritchie used her own personal tragedy as inspiration to educate others about a disease that so many Glendale parents knew little about.

As president of the PTA at Hoover High School in the mid-1990s, Ritchie educated her peers about the reality and effects of the virus.

"Parents' attitude [was] this won't happen to our family. We found out it does happen to your family, whether you're doing anything wrong or not," Ritchie said. "People were very surprised to find out you could get it that easily … They were very grateful to know what I was telling them and surprised to know how widespread it was."

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Ritchie was also in constant communication with doctors at Childrens Hospital in Los Angeles. She would get information from professionals and then relay answers to parents' questions during PTA meetings.

Although the death of her son turned Ritchie into an educator in the Glendale community, she had already been active in the area — a mentality she says she got from her mother. Ritchie was involved in the Glendale Symphony Orchestra Assn.'s Women's Committee, and she played piano for the choir at the Mormon Church.

Currently, Ritchie is serving as the president of the Philanthropic Educational Organization in Glendale. As president, she takes a major role in planning meetings and annual events for the group.

"I feel we need to give back to the community," she said. "I had a good education here, grew up here, felt the city gave me a lot of opportunities. I should do things to help people in the city."

Ritchie is no longer as active as she once was, however. In 1997, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a chronic disease of the brain and spinal cord. While she doesn't have the energy she once had, she continues to volunteer as often as she can.

"I hope I'll always be able to do something, but you never know how the energy goes," Ritchie said. "I don't ever want to be totally idle."

Ritchie has used her own life experiences to help motivate and educate the community she loves, and she only has one request from the others in Glendale.

"I would like to see people get more involved in running for office and serving on committees," she said. "Not necessarily in city government, but in the schools, churches and everything else."

As current president of Philanthropic Educational Organization, Ritchie will continue to give back and hope that others do the same.

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