The son of a mathematician mom, I was raised to effortlessly solve “word problems.” Any pencil and the back of a cocktail napkin were all you needed. So as an adult, I had no real fear of the mother lode of all word problems – writing a book. Now that was a problem. And it got compounded because I believed Michael Pollan, the New York Times health reporter, who said that “Everyone has at least one story within them.” Mine wasn’t a story that flowed out or that needed to be pulled out or even coaxed out. Rather, it was a story vomited out of me. Something that had to come out with startling velocity and covered the back of the napkin.
As if 15 years of caregiving for my mother (and father and Great Aunt Clara) was not enough work, I took the first step of this crazy writing journey late one evening at the office. That day, I had lunch with my hilarious advertising friend, Terry Taylor, at a table below a painting of Willie Nelson on blue velvet. We got a good laugh out of Velvet Willie, and he directed me to write my “first story about Oldzheimerz before I left the office that night.” I picked up a pen.
ABOUT MISS MARY
My mother, known as Miss Mary to her fans, was a mathematician and one of the first women faculty members at the University of Richmond. With a genius IQ, she was the only person I ever knew who triple majored in college. A force of energy, she was also an accomplished athlete and champion golfer. Born in 1929, the year of Black Tuesday, Miss Mary grew up during the Depression and became part of the Greatest Generation. She met my father upon his return home from World War II. He described Mary and her three look-a-like sisters as “head-turners.” When they were dating, her constant refrain was, “Bill, take me dancing.”
In her 70s, my mother lived with Great Aunt Clara about a mile from me and my family. Senior caregiving became part of my daily life with a burned-out light bulb always needing to be replaced. Every Saturday morning, my kids and I went to Grammy Mary’s house for our weekly ritual called “Bills & Pills.” First, we sorted pills and loaded them into blue plastic pill boxes for the upcoming week. Then, sitting at the dining room table, I sorted the stack of bills and began writing checks. My son, James, would stick on stamps and return address stickers and lick envelopes closed. Miss Mary, like a CEO, would review the checks and sign. One Saturday morning, I watched as my mathematician mother tried but could no longer subtract to balance her checkbook. She turned and looked at me and said, “This is the Alzheimer’s isn’t it?” I replied, “Yes, it is.” Alzheimer’s dementia was slowly subtracting each brain cell from her once brilliant mind.
ABOUT THE BOOK
There’s no preventing Alzheimer’s dementia. No remedy. No cure. I could not help Miss Mary, no more than I could help the 5,000,000 adults diagnosed with Alzheimer’s across the United States or their estimated 15,000,000 caregivers. Each minute, more than fifty men and women are reportedly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s dementia throughout the United States. This is a story about an unlikely middle son and health care professional who extended his hand to help a brilliant mind in the slow motion catastrophe called Alzheimer’s. It encompasses all that caregiving involves, including the absurd and hilarious.
Health Care Leader | Author | Speaker | Medical Fundraiser
J. Keith McMullin has led health care program development, marketing and sales for more than 20 years in local and national markets. A graduate of the University of Virginia, he currently is a medical fundraiser with Bon Secours Health System for hospice, home care and St. Mary’s Hospital in Richmond, Virginia. Keith likes helping to solve health care’s complex challenges and making a real difference in people’s lives. Today, the health care industry is a landscape of change. He learned first-hand how to be successful amidst constant change and uncertainty through his second full-time job – caregiving for his mom with Alzheimer’s dementia. Missing Mary is his first book.
Keith has worked for some of the most trusted brands in health care—Blue Cross Blue Shield and Bon Secours Health System. Keith built the team that launched Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s health and wellness programs nationally, resulting in tripled membership and revenue in two years for the division. Keith led marketing strategy for Anthem Virginia’s largest product launch in the company’s history for consumer-directed health plans. He has received numerous awards, including “Best of Blue” for helping raise more than $7 million to support medical research for cardiovascular disease and cancer. Over the course of his career, it was probably the college job as bartender and waiter that prepared him best to moonlight as a senior caregiver for Miss Mary. Who knew that being “in the weeds” and continuing to patiently serve people who have stopped making sense was such a valuable skillset? And you never know when being able to mix a perfect Manhattan might just save your life.
- Best of Blue (brand strategy)
- Best of Blue (integrated marketing)
- Changing & Achieving Award (patient engagement)
- Corporate Philanthropist of the Year (cause marketing)
- Industry Best Practice (product and marketing)
- Pinnacle Award (cause marketing)
- Pinnacle Award (product development)
- People’s Choice Champion (Chili Cook-Off)