Special Presentation of a Paul Harris Fellow Award

Sara Marks, Lisa Gwyther and Nancy Marks

Sara Marks, Lisa Gwyther and Nancy Marks

Nancy and Sara Marks present a Paul Harris Fellow Award to someone who has been special in their lives and the life of the Durham community.

Come back with me for a moment to October, 1981.  Picture if you will a small conference room in Duke Medical Center.  Present with me are Sara, my daughter, Dr. Sandy Marks, my brother in-law (a retired dental missionary), and a young neurologist from South Africa.  We were there for a consult concerning my husband, Ham Marks – a very physically healthy, handsome, and amenable fellow who seemed to have some memory problems that none of our long-time physicians in Wilmington could diagnose.  Ham was a Past District Governor with 47 years of perfect attendance, and had attended 21 International Conventions, usually serving as a Sargent at Arms or Delegate to the Legislative sessions.  He was extraordinarily active in his church and community, had designed and with the help of a carpenter built our very comfortable log cabin home on Masonboro Sound, and loved building and fixing things in his workshop.

The young neurologist quietly said to us,

“Mr. Marks exhibits Alzheimer‘s-like symptoms – a terminal memory problem.  We don’t know what causes it, or how to treat it, or how long it will last – but it will only get worse.  He will require 24-hour-a-day care for the rest of his life, and must not operate any machinery of any type.”

Now, at that time, I could still process new information fairly well – but not in this situation.  The man could tear down and rebuild a motor in record time.  In dismay, I asked, “Is there anything we can read?  Is there anyone we can speak with?”

The doctor gave me contact information for a young social worker with the Department of Aging at Duke Medical Center.  In 1980, Lisa Gwyther had started a program called, “The Duke Family Support Program for Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders” – a program she still directs.

For the next 14 years, Lisa was always as close as the telephone.  Through:

  • 4 years of day care (a brand new program in Wilmington)
  • 1 ½ years of special unit care in Durham, because there were none in Wilmington.

And when Ham literally forgot how to walk, back to Wilmington for

  • 8 ½ years of skilled nursing home care.

For questions about behavior modification, possible use of medications, suggestions for professional caregivers, or just an understanding ear willing to listen, Lisa Gwyther was always there.  Multiply our experience by hundreds and hundreds of North Carolina Alzheimer’s families;

– plus several trips to Wilmington and other communities to help train staff at day care centers and nursing homes in appropriate ways to deal with dementia patients;

– while writing unending articles for local, state, and national publications, plus a number of books on the topic;

– and for 25 consecutive years here in Durham, planning and running one of the best attended and most successful two-day conferences in the country for both family and professional caregivers.

So, for over 35 years of serving as an exemplary example of Rotary’s motto, “Service Above Self,” to Alzheimer’s families everywhere, Sara and I are so very pleased to present Lisa Gwyther as the Durham Rotary Club’s newest Paul Harris Fellow!

Editor’s note: For more information about the program that Lisa Gwyther has developed at Duke click this link http://centerforaging.duke.edu/service/dfsp



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