The ‘iconic and legendary’ Tegan Morris was born with a rare form of muscular dystrophy and faced many challenges, but her unexpected and sudden passing was a shock to her family, friends, and work colleagues.
Tegan saw herself as a multi-faceted gemstone, perhaps a ruby or a garnet, launched by her parents into the world, and like a stone skipping across water, she made ripples when she touched someone’s life. As the ripples spread, they intersected, creating interconnections. She loved this image so much, she had it inked on her skin.
She left home in 2005 to complete her Bachelor of Social Science degree at Waikato University (2009), becoming a member of the Golden Key International Honour Society (for the top 15% of university academic achievers). While at university, she held a student representative role and was a Disability Student Support Officer at Wintec.
Tegan began her relationship with Interactionz when she was nearing the end of her degree and wanted to find ways to connect more with her community. She made some plans, and began acting on them.
Tegan used an electric wheelchair for mobility and required full time assistance with life tasks. She was a passionate advocate for people with disabilities. To raise awareness, she began speaking publicly about the realities of living with a physical disability. She hoped organisations, agencies and individuals would create more accessible, inclusive and welcoming environments.
As a motivational speaker, she gave living examples and talked about future possibilities as well as hobbies and self-expression.
Around this time, Interactionz had undergone significant change and wanted someone to be the voice of youth at the Lifestyle Trust decision-making table. Tegan offered a unique perspective and could make a valuable contribution. The Interactionz Board invited her to become a member, which she agreed to in 2008.
She was quiet, unassuming and non-judgemental—but no pushover. She had a steely determination and would ‘face her fear and do it anyway’. She didn’t easily accept ‘no’ as an answer. She wanted everyone to live their best life.
She believed in Interactionz’s principles, ethics and approach to providing services, its innovative positive focus and ground-breaking work. She felt a real connection to staff and fellow board members.
Her work influenced the Interactionz’s journey as well as the wider disability sector.
At the time of her death, Tegan had been elected chair of the Interactionz Board of Trustees.
Her legacy was positivity, encouragement, insight and determination. Her purpose was to build a strong, positive, inclusive community.
She was the epitome of what Interactionz stood for. She had a passion to help and advocate for others and make a difference in their lives.
Tegan described herself as a life coach, motivational speaker, author and mentor.
She worked with several organisations including WINTEC, Manawanui, Community Trust, and the Muscular Dystrophy Association in various roles. She helped inform them on best practice, policy and processes when working with the disability community. She also helped disabled people seek financial support and provided life skill and confidence mentoring.
Tegan was a creative. She saw the poetry and art in life and looked for the magic in the mundane.
She wrote a novel, Not Always Lost, partly to help young people relate to others with differences, not just disabilities. She wanted to provide children and teenagers with the visible role models that she didn’t have. As many authors have found, finding a publisher wasn’t easy. Undeterred, Tegan crowdfunded her self-published novel to ‘get it into people’s hands’ and get her message out there.
Her artistic endeavours also included painting. Tegan had created a series of watercolour landscapes and animal portraits which were posthumously exhibited at The Meteor with help from her family and friends Mona Patel and Tia Barrett.
Inspired by a theatre history university paper and her love of drama, she directed a play, A Coward Swings at the Gallows, at the 2011 Hamilton Fringe Festival.
And she liked to get creative in the kitchen, inventing new recipes and sharing her passion for food.
Tegan regularly updated her YouTube channel, Tegan Meets World. It is evidence of her broad interests, sense of humour and determination to live a fun, authentic and positive life—as well as righting societal misconceptions about living with a disability.
Tegan loved going places and travelled extensively. Each trip brought “new opportunities, excitements and challenges”.
She acknowledged those experiences were possible because of the creativity, generosity and support of people around her.
Tegan’s parents, Sue and Alan, sister Rose and wider family encouraged and supported Tegan. They always had her back and helped her to believe that anything was possible.
She made a digital story about the power of words. For some, this would have trappings of sticks and stones, but it is a testament to Tegan’s family, friends and mentors that her life was influenced by positive words—love, strength, future, positivity, hope, courage, determination...
A friend wrote this acrostic poem about her:
Tenacious, practical and resourceful
Enthusiastic, optimistic and fun
Generous, gentle, and nurturing
A warrior, assertive and daring
Non-conventional, open-minded, and compassionate
Tegan could talk to anyone and built extensive networks.
As an adult, she organised a support network to make the life she wanted to live possible. She described those people as being like a vehicle: “Sometimes being part of that vehicle has involved carrying me places (i.e. doing the work for me). Other times, I’ve been in the driver’s seat and they have just been the wheels. The different inputs and contributions that these people have made have added to my experience of how my life is and the growth that has been and the journey that is who I am.”
Tegan was not defined by her disability. She lived her best life. She was described as a shining star who inspired people around the world to live meaningful lives.
Yet it was the simplest things that mattered to her. She said, “One of my greatest ambitions and achievements has been being sincere and engaging meaningfully in every conversation. I believe every conversation is a potential relationship, and every relationship has the potential to change our lives.”
Tegan’s legacy was in the power of her voice/words, so here they are:
‘I want my family to know that I have always, and will always, appreciate their love and support. It has not been within my capacity to leave a great impact in a physical sense—no large business empire or anything like that. But I hope that those that knew me well can find some way to use my life and memory to help improve their lives and the lives of others.
That has always been my aim in life—to contribute—to help and to care so that others’ lives could be as positive and full of possibilities (or more so) than my own. I want my memory and legacy to be one of positivity, encouragement, insight and determination.’
To honour Tegan and the contribution she made to Interactionz, we want to recognise others that live her attributes, her ways of being.