We're on a crusade, and if it has the name Alzheimer's attached to it, we're there. Last week my husband, my BFF, Meryl Comer, and I went from DC to Big D, Dallas, Texas for the Alzheimer's AWARE Luncheon. I have never been to Texas and it seemed to me like a long way to travel for chicken salad, but that just shows my ignorance about the big state. As it turned out, the whole event was elegant. The Stetsons were big (particularly on Larry Hagman of "Dallas" fame) and the jewelry was even bigger (particularly on Phyllis George of Miss America fame), but the biggest thing Dallas had to offer was their hearts (particularly the former football players and the surprising sentimental Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys).
Let me give you some context.
We were invited to the luncheon by the amazing Rita Hortenstine, a wonderful human being who is unreservedly committed to finding a cure for Alzheimer's. The honorees were Coach Frank Broyles, the famed former head football coach of the University of Arkansas Razorbacks, and Darrell Royal, the coach with the most wins in the University of Texas Longhorns' football history.
Over the years, Coach Broyles and Coach Royal were fierce competitors and close friends. The focus of the luncheon was discussing the big game between the Longhorns and the Razorbacks - complete with footage of the 1969 event in a documentary "The Big Shootout," which showed the stunning Longhorns' victory (15-14) with a gutsy long pass late in the game.
Summing up the game after the Shootout, Royal simply said, "They outplayed us. We outlucked 'em."
The coaches never discussed the game.
"We had a friendship that amazed people," Coach Broyles said. They played golf and vacationed together. "He was one of the greatest coaches in the country, but he didn't think he was anything great. To know him, he was just Darrell Royal."
But Darrell Royal was not at the luncheon that day. It was too difficult. He had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. His wife, Edith, has started the Darrell K Royal fund for Alzheimer's Research in his name.
Coach Broyles is no stranger to Alzheimer's himself: his beloved wife, Barbara, died of the disease in 2004. The coach didn't sit on the sidelines. He traveled cross-country talking out about the disease (once, brilliantly, at our National Gala in DC) and has written a book and pocket reference of tips and strategies (like a coach's game book) for Alzheimer's caregivers. It wisely, gently takes the caregiver and family from early to late stage AD. It is a gift.
My friend, Meryl, and I had earlier dipped into a chichi store named Stanley Korshak. We were dazzled. Meryl rarely buys anything for herself. A former journalist and on-air host, she gave up her career when her 57-year-old hematologist husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. That was 17 years ago and she is still taking care of him at home. She also heads The Geoffrey Beene Foundation dedicated to finding a way to avert or cure Alzheimer's. She is both courageous and beautiful inside and out (with outrageously high cheekbones).
In Stanley Korshak there was this gorgeous necklace that I finally convinced her to buy. I told her that her husband, who has been in a coma for 4 years now, would have wanted her to have it - and I'm sure that is true.
At the luncheon there was a live auction - the highlight of the event. The big item: a football signed by the '69 Texas and Arkansas squad offered up by a Texan with a big heart in honor of his mother who has Alzheimer's. After several minutes of back-and-forth bidding rousing the 800 person audience to cheers, came the final bid of $10,000 - and it was from Meryl, who certainly needed those funds. She then proceeded to give the football back to the Texan with the big heart honoring his mother - who offered it up on the block again, which is how the football netted $19,500 in the end. Meryl looked at me and said with a smile, "I guess that necklace is going back." Sigh.
The pièce-de-resistance came with the closing remarks by Jerry Jones. Turning to Coach Broyles, he said, "What I never dreamed when I was 18, 19, 20 and you were teaching us about how important it was to be ready for the fourth quarter was that you would show us in the fourth quarter now, if you will, how to live with a disease like Barbara's. You showed everybody what it's like to deal with the fourth quarter of life."
And that, my friends, is why the biggest thing about Texas is its heart.
Photo credit: jrandallc on Flickr.