It was in Booth Gardner's post-political career, after Parkinson's Disease had begun to take its inevitable toll on him, that he teamed with another former Washington governor whose own brother had the disease to help create the nation's first comprehensive treatment center for Parkinson's.
Gardner's many contributions, from his leadership as two-term governor to his high-visibility support of the Death with Dignity Initiative, are being recalled in the wake of his death last week that ended his long struggle with Parkinson's.
But those who benefitted from the name, horsepower and personal leadership he brought to creation of the Booth Gardner Parkinson's Care Center at Evergreen Hospital may well regard that as perhaps his most important contribution.
This column is focused on the signal impact Gardner had in what amounted to an important victory for him in his struggle with the neurological disorder that leads to progressive difficulties with movement and coordination, and eventually cost him his life.
Gardner was part of the remarkable intersection of individuals impacted by Parkinson's who came together in 2000 as a fledgling initiative took shape to create a specialized treatment center for Parkinson's Disease in the Seattle area.
Craig Howard, whose step-mother had Parkinson's, recalls that as he and Bill Bell, whose mother also had the disease, began working with Evergreen to create a special treatment center for Parkinson's, they learned about Gardner being similarly afflicted.
It was Bell, nephew of former Gov. Dan Evans and his wife, Nancy, who had originally envisioned a Parkinson's treatment center after enduring the frustration of the fact "specialists were few and far between and scattered around the country" as he sought help for his mother.
"The idea of creating a multi-disciplinary clinic, where patients could be treated in a more holistic way, by a team, led by specialist seemed to resonate with people," said Bell, who approached Howard about joining in the effort.
Bell and Howard had already enlisted Evans, whose brother had the disease, and his wife, Nancy, as initial board members of the then-new Northwest Parkinson's Foundation, when Evans suggested to Howard "contact Booth Gardner because he also has Parkinson's"
"During the visit, after I tracked him down at his office in the Norton Building, it was obvious that he was being grossly under-treated for his symptoms and he agreed to make an appointment with the only specialist in town at the time," Howard recalls.
"Three weeks later, Booth called and asked why nobody knew there were actual neurologists that are fellowship trained in Parkinson's," Howard said. "He was back woodworking, playing with the grandchildren and feeling back in the game."
that there's an opportunity to feel better. He asked how he could help. I asked if we could use his name for the new Center. He said, 'That would be great because everyone else just asks for money.'"
|Booth Gardner being interviewed at Business Journal 25th Anniversary party, with Mike Lowry, another former governor|
In addition to lending his name to the new Center, Gardner became the first board chair for the Northwest Parkinson's Foundation and was a constant advocate for specialized care and PD awareness.
Gardner and Evans, despite both being former governors, hadn't known each other very well, but soon became fast friends with their shared focus on the Parkinson's care cause.
Nancy Evans once joked to me, "If the phone rings at 7:30 a.m., we know it's either one of the kids or Booth."
It was because of my wife, Betsy's, Parkinson's that we came to know Gardner and, whenever we met at a Parkinson's event, he always came up and gave Betsy a hug and he and I would visit about how he was feeling.
His legendary sense of humor extended even to his disease as, when he was interviewed at the Puget Sound Business Journal's 25th anniversary event, he quipped: "I told my doctor I wanted to live to see 70. So now that I've made that, I called him and said, 'okay, I want to see 80.'"
"As founders, each of those board members seeded the organization generously," Howard said. "NWPF and Evergreen pushed the Center into the black in just over 24 months, but most importantly showed other hospitals in the region they needed specialized movement-disorders care."
"Puget Sound is now one of the best places to live well with Parkinson's, with at least eight specialized physicians where there were none before," Howard added.
"The Booth Gardner Center, as the first in the country focused solely on treatment, proved to be the model for the nation," Howard said. "And this area remains the epicenter of Parkinson's treatment."
Summing up Gardner's contribution, Howard described him as "an alchemist of human potential" in energizing people to produce their best. "Booth had a magical effect based on the possibilities."