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Why I Walk to End Alzheimer’s: Keith Byrd, Co-founder & Chair of the Board of Directors, TransImpact

What brings me to this Walk to End Alzheimer’s is my grandfather, Fred R. Byrd, Sr. I called him “Papaw.” He died of this awful disease May 19, 1999.

He really helped raise me from a kid. Papaw was my hero, someone I really looked up to. He was a class-act guy.

My grandfather never smoked, never drank, none of that. You never heard a cuss word out of him. He worked fifty years at a hosiery mill and never missed one day of work. Papaw was very respected in the community. He had complete integrity. Work ethic. The core values that are important to me now and that I brought to TI, it all started with him.

He fought it for two years. It hit him quick. To go from being one of the smartest, most well-rounded people I’ve ever met, to that state, is very humbling and it’s very eye-opening to what the disease can do.

You’d be talking normally to him one minute and then he’d be rambling about something in the past, something that happened when he was fourteen years old. You’re just confused. I didn’t know much about it then and I didn’t know what was going on.

The Real Impact of This Disease

It’s hard to be talking to your mentor, your guide that had all the sense in the world, and then he’d lose his train of thought, forget what you were talking about.

Then it got to where he didn’t even recognize you, and that really hurt. The guy you respected the most, and he didn’t even know who you were.

It was hard on everybody to see the man of steel go to that place in his mind. My grandmother was still alive then, and I’m sure it was part of her later demise to see the effect that had on him. It’s probably the hardest disease I can think of for somebody to go through for family members to be around. It goes on and on, and then you think they’re coming out of it, and then they get worse again.

Eventually they put him in a home. I went and vetted it and I wasn’t happy with it, so we brought him home. But then after a while we couldn’t take care of him, so he went back.

I couldn’t tell, but my heart thinks that, yes, he was suffering.

You just never know what’s going on inside. We struggled with that too. It was a dreadful disease to see him go through, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

So hopefully someday we can come up with a way to get rid of this disease. I’m in a position now to do something. That’s what it’s going to take — people recognizing the problem and putting funds towards finding a solution. Hats off to everybody that’s doing this walk.


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