(Note from the Arthurnator: I wrote this three years ago. Since that time, another friend has been diagnosed as well. The event is coming up again on Sept. 28 – not this weekend as the post will say – and I plan to participate. I hope you will, too, in whatever fashion.)
This is a sad story, but it’s not going to be maudlin. It’s main character wouldn’t like that.
I met Laura just before my sophomore year at Carolina. A lot of us had signed up to be orientation counselors that year. Out of character for me? Yeah. But we figured it would be a good way to meet chicks.
I can’t remember if she was in Greg’s group or not. But it didn’t matter one way or another. Once they met, it was on.
I’ve written about Greg before, in this post about the cadre of friends I joined at Carolina. Greg is the one college friend I’ve stayed in touch with since graduation. And Laura became a good friend too. Although many of us who’d hung with Greg freshman year sometimes were jealous that he now spent nearly all his time with her. We got over it once we saw how happy she made him, of course.
After she graduated, Laura went to work at the Wilmington newspaper. I worked in Jacksonville, and she and Greg invited me down many times just to hang out. I made friends with some of the reporters Laura worked with, and they tried to recruit me. Trouble was, I never liked the paper, though I liked Laura’s and others’ work in it. I still don’t like it very much.
Anyway, I once went with Laura and Greg to her parents’ house in Hyattsville, Md. Laura’s dad had been a journalism prof at Ohio University until he left to be a vice president at The Washington Post. We’d gone up to see the Carolina-Maryland football game, but we squeezed in a side trip to the Post offices that Saturday morning. It should have scared me off journalism right then and there that both publisher Katharine Graham and Bob Woodward were working that day. Mr. Anderson, Laura’s father, introduced us to them. Mrs. G, as she was known, was warm and seemed interested in us. (This is the same person of whom John Mitchell, Nixon’s henchman, once said during Watergate: “Katie Graham’s gonna get her tit caught in a big fat wringer if that’s published.” Yes, that was our attorney general in those days.) Woodward, on the other hand, could hardly have been more disinterested. He gave us a limp handshake and not much else. Still, it was a big thrill for a young journalist, and I’ve never forgotten it. The game – not so much. I think we lost on a late field goal. But what I know is that the hot dogs at Byrd Stadium – we called ’em Byrd dogs – were terrible.
I’d later go to Greg and Laura’s wedding and kept in touch once they moved to Charlotte. Greg was doing PR for a large Southern retailer at the time and Laura wound up at Price McNabb ad agency, now Eric Mower. When Karen and I moved to Gastonia in the ’90s, we’d occasionally run into them. Laura was smart and hard-working and she became a big-time exec there.
When we moved back to the Greater Charlotte area in 2000 after our three-year exile in Henderson, I renewed the friendship again, mostly with Greg. We’d go eat barbecue every month or so at Bill Spoon’s, and we always had a great time. He remains one of my favorite people, someone who is just as nuts about UNC as I am.
It was at one of those lunches in 2008 that he told me something that scared the crap out of me. Laura had an incident driving in Charlotte one day. Basically, she’d forgotten the way home. He was worried. So was I. The doctors couldn’t find anything wrong. I thought maybe she’d had a small stroke.
It happened a couple of other times. Later that year, she got the diagnosis: Early onset Alzheimer’s. She wasn’t even 50 years old.
Greg and I still meet for lunch occasionally, though not as often now that I’m not in Charlotte everyday, thanks to my unfortunate job situation. (Special Arthurnator update: My job situation is no longer unfortunate.) It takes a little more planning, and that’s not one of my strengths. He gives me updates on how she’s doing. Pretty well most days, though there obviously are episodes when she can’t remember things.
But remember, I said this wasn’t going to be a maudlin story. And it isn’t. In addition to be smart and driven, Laura is courageous. She doesn’t complain about her fate, indeed she blogs about it. Without an ounce of self-pity. Her energies these days, and much of Greg’s, are devoted to working on behalf of Alzheimer’s. Her blog urges everyone to live life to the fullest. (By the way, she’s in a clinical trial right now for a drug that’s designed to help rejuvenate brain cells.)
All of which brings me to this weekend. Greg and Laura are the honorary chairpersons for this year’s Charlotte Memory Walk fund-raiser. It’ll be Saturday morning in SouthPark. Karen and I are walking with them, and we made an all-too-small contribution to the cause. (Click here if you want to know more about how to help.) In addition to raising money, the event is designed to focus attention on a disease that sometimes gets overlooked in the research-funding tug-of-war at the national level. In the coming budget battle, I hope funding for research on it can survive, if not thrive. At worst, by walking, we hope we’re taking baby steps toward a cure.
I know there are a zillion causes out there, and I don’t want to denigrate any of them. But this one is special to me, because of my long friendship with one of the nicest people I’ve ever known. Please keep Laura in your thoughts, and for those of you who pray, please consider her situation. And for all of you, please live life to the fullest.