CAPITAL DISTRICT At the age of 42, Dr. Rita Leighton had everything to look forward to. She was a successful physician, loved going to the Saratoga Race Course and had a great group of friends.
Now those friends are in their eighth year of walking in her memory after Leighton took her own life in 2004.
“Her legacy is that the stigma of mental illness is being brought to the forefront. … We don’t want anyone to be alone,” said Lisa Riley, founder of the walk and a friend of Leighton.
The Out of the Darkness Walk for R.I.T.A. drew about 1,000 participants and raised $100,000 last year. This year’s goal is to attract 1,200 walkers and raise $125,000 to support the Capital Region Chapter of the Foundation of Suicide Prevention, host of the event.
Since 2006, the walk has raised nearly $500,000 to support educational programs for teens, scientific research and programs for those who have lost a loved one to suicide. R.I.T.A holds two meanings — standing both as Leighton’s first name and a powerful mantra for those impacted by suicide: Remembrance, Intervention, Together we can bring Awareness.
“Every year the walk gets bigger and raises more money,” said Marianne Reid, board secretary for the event and coordinator for the foundation’s Outreach Program.
The event is one of about 250 walks throughout the country in connection with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Half of the funds raised at the walk are used within the local chapter, with the other half going to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
“This is an event that so many local families look forward to every year as a way to publicly recognize their loved ones who have been lost to suicide. Also, it’s another way for people to come out and support the cause,” said Reid.