As some of you know, my father, Leonard Zola, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease about three years ago. I lived with him until we settled him into a long-term care facility in September of last year. Last Saturday night, he passed away. The end was a surprise but not unexpected. He went peacefully, in his mind doing something he loved so his family and friends can take solace in the fact that while we know he was suffering, he was not entirely aware of his condition.
In a weird way, this is sort of a blessing of Alzheimer’s disease as the afflicted is in their own little world, which, in a moment-to-moment basis, seems normal. In fact, the true essence of a person is often enlightened in such a state. My Dad spent the majority of his adult life either in broadcasting or in endeavors related to broadcasting. For longer than that, he was a news junkie, reading every newspaper cover to cover. This was back in the day when there were multiple papers in town as well as multiple editions. In fact, my first hint there was something wrong with him was when he would go out at three in the morning to pick up the newspaper. Reading the paper and news in general was just a part of him.
A little over ten years ago, mostly as a means to keep busy, my Dad founded what he called The Media Gang, a roster of retired and veteran participants in Boston/New England Media, Arts, and related fields. He organized bi-yearly luncheons and would send out monthly newsletters, at first by regular mail and then electronically as more members familiarized themselves with e-mail. He would include announcements and stories pertaining to Media Gang members as well as preparing a review of the luncheons, replete with pictures and anecdotes of the festivities.
At its peak, there were over 1500 active members of The Media Gang, half of whom would attend at least one luncheon a year. If my work schedule permitted, I would attend as well and always marveled at how everyone in the room was, for lack of a better word, an equal. Boston is a major media market and there were some well known personalities, most local but some national as well. But on luncheon day, there was just a room full of friends, many of whom had fallen out of touch. People were just as happy to see the behind the scenes technician as they were to see the anchorperson or host that started in Boston and went on to one of the major networks. My Dad was always reticent to accept the thanks and gratitude the members bestowed upon him. Perhaps, deep down, he realized how special his actions were and how much they meant to others, but he never showed it. To wit, at the last couple of luncheons after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, he made a point of reminding everyone he was not actually the original founder; that he took over from another gentleman and my Dad was almost embarrassed to be perceived as the founder. The truth is, the idea may have been borne elsewhere, but my Dad nurtured it, fed it and was the sole reason it grew.
In September of 2009, Leonard Zola was honored for his efforts in broadcasting, but mostly for the blood, sweat and sometimes tears he poured into The Media Gang when he was inducted into the Massachusetts Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame. Even though he was a year into his affliction, he was still completely able to appreciate the honor. I am comfortable speaking for him when I say that other than the times he spent reading to, playing with or just being Zayde to his four wonderful grandchildren and three grandpuppies, the induction to the MBHOF was the most cherished moment of the latter phase of his joyous life. For those so inclined, here is a link to his biography that accompanied his induction: Len Zola.
Earlier, I mentioned that my Dad passed doing something he loved and also that Alzheimer’s can bring out the true essence of the individual. When my sister was visiting our Dad the afternoon of the day he ultimately passed, she was sure that in his sleep, he was broadcasting. She could only hear him mumbling, but the intonation and speech pattern was unmistakable -- he was broadcasting. Not only that, one of the nurses told me that earlier, while touching to one of the tubes on his chest with one hand and pointing to the monitor tracking his vitals with the other, he asked that she turn his microphone up so he could hear himself.
Dad, we’ll all miss you. Do me a favor please and tell Mom we all said hi and miss her too, but don’t interrupt her Mahjong game.