After her mother slipped into dementia in the late 1980s and died of complications of Alzheimer’s disease in 1992 at 76, Trish Vradenburg and her husband, George, committed themselves to finding a remedy.
They raised millions of dollars for research and eventually established their own organization, UsAgainstAlzheimer’s, to galvanize their corporate and show-business connections into generating greater public awareness of the disease and advocating for more federal government investment in experimentation, speedier development of drugs and improved patient care.
All the while, Ms. Vradenburg (pronounced VRAY-denburg) dreaded the possibility that she, too, was genetically disposed to Alzheimer’s, afraid that moments of normal forgetfulness augured the disease.
But she refused to be tested until there was a cure. She once even went so far as to say that she preferred to be hit by a truck after taking the last bite of a Snickers bar, as long as she did not linger in a demented limbo, as her mother had.
Ms. Vradenburg died on Monday, of a heart attack, at her home in Washington, a spokesman for UsAgainstAlzheimer’s said. She was 70.
Ms. Vradenburg had come to her Alzheimer’s crusade from a writing career. She was a sitcom writer, novelist and playwright who began her career drafting speeches for Senator Harrison A. Williams, a Democrat from New Jersey. Her mother had worked for him as an assistant.
She wrote articles for newspapers and magazines, and then, after taking a night course at the New School in Manhattan, wrote for the CBS shows “Kate & Allie,” “Everything’s Relative” and “Designing Women”; published a novel titled “Liberated Lady” (1986) (which was a Literary Guild alternate selection); and wrote a semiautobiographical play about a sitcom writer whose mother develops Alzheimer’s.
The play was originally called “The Apple Doesn’t Fall …” and was directed by Leonard Nimoy. It lasted one performance on Broadway in 1996, but was revived more successfully off Broadway as “Surviving Grace” in 2002.
When Grace, the mother, lapses into temporary lucidity as a result of a successful treatment, she suggests that her daughter quit her job and join her on a cross-country trip. “How many people would give anything to have their mother back?” Grace says. “When you think about it, I’m giving you a gift.”
Patricia Lerner (her middle name at birth was Ann, but she changed it to Lois because she disliked her initials) was born on May 9, 1946, in Newark, to Joseph Lerner and the former Beatrice Hirschman. Her father was a municipal judge, and both her parents were active in Jewish organizations and Democratic politics.
She graduated from Boston University, where she met George Vradenburg, a Harvard Law School student and descendant of Peregrine White, the first known English child born to the Pilgrims in America. He converted to Judaism to marry her.
He survives her, along with their children, Alissa and Tyler; four grandchildren; and her brother, Rabbi Michael Lerner, the founding editor of Tikkun magazine, which covers American and Israeli culture and which the Vradenburgs published.
After Mr. Vradenburg had a heart attack, he retired from his job as counsel to AOL and the couple devoted themselves to raising an estimated $10 million for the Alzheimer’s Association. In 2010, they decided to form their own organization to lobby more aggressively for a cure by 2020. They agreed to cover administrative costs themselves.
“Losing a person you love so deeply and feeling so helpless to stop it makes you rage, cry, swear and, ultimately, become an advocate,” Ms. Vradenburg wrote on her blog on the group’s website. “That’s when you can take some power back.”
While she was disappointed with early clinical trials, her hope for a remedy was unflagging.
“A cure for Alzheimer’s: a fantasy, a wish, an impossible dream; the same words that were said to Galileo, Edison, Curie, Salk and whoever dreamed up the internet,” she wrote. “Yesterday’s dream is today’s reality.”
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