The Wall Street Journal: Honesty in the Face of Alzheimer’s

By MELANIE GRAYCE WEST

April 24, 2012

Here's how Melvin R. Goodes, the retired chief executive of Warner-Lambert, answers the question, "Mel, how are you?"

"Not bad for a guy with Alzheimer's," he responds.

That Mr. Goodes approaches this question honestly and with a sense of humor is just the point.

"I'm very open about all this," says Mr. Goodes, 77 years old. "A lot of people who have gone through this kind of thing may become terribly reticent to go out in public. I just adopted a different attitude."

You'll find Mr. Goodes and his wife, Nancy, playing sports and at parties in their home community of Vero Beach, Fla. Mrs. Goodes, 58, says that her husband jokes with her that every day he meets new friends. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's three years ago and given some pills, says Mrs. Goodes. That wasn't good enough and the couple sought out a doctor and organization that could help the couple navigate what Mrs. Goodes calls a "desperate" time.

Their search led to Dr. Howard Fillit of the Alzheimer's Drug Discovery Foundation and to Leonard Lauder, chairman emeritus of the Estée Lauder Cos., and co-chair of the ADDF with his brother, Ronald Lauder. The organization, founded in 1998, is focused on accelerating the development of drugs to prevent and treat Alzheimer's disease.

It is a mission that spoke deeply to Mr. Goodes, who is known in the pharmaceutical industry as the man behind the statin drug, Lipitor. (In addition, he also green-lighted one of the first drugs used to treat patients with Alzheimer's.) Mr. Goodes and Mr. Lauder hit it off—"brothers in another life" is how Mrs. Goodes describes them—and Mr. and Mrs. Goodes have supported the ADDF for the past few years. At the organization's annual dinner in New York on April 26, the Goodes will announce a new $1 million pledge to ADDF.

"God bless Leonard Lauder," says Mrs. Goodes. "There are a lot of Alzheimer's organizations out there, but no one doing anything for research."

The Goodes describe with equal passion the urgency for drug research and the need to lift the stigma of Alzheimer's. They've become the go-to couple when friends or acquaintances need advice. It's a role that Mrs. Goodes says she didn't know she'd have, but embraces because of the bravery she sees in her husband.

Mr. Goodes tells people he has nothing to complain about and he's determined to enjoy this time in his life. At the same time, he's a realist and knows what the ultimate end will be. But, he says, "I'm going to keep fighting like hell and inspire other people."

That optimism and openness has served as an inspiration to others. "My husband has an amazing legacy. What he's doing now far surpasses anything he's ever done," says Mrs. Goodes. "It takes a lot of guts to do what he's doing."