Glenn Kirkland

Age 89 Johns Hopkins physicist founded support organizations for victims of Alzheimer's disease.

His wife's struggle with Alzheimer's disease was chronicled in the film 'Living with Grace.'

August 17, 2008|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,Sun Reporter

Glenn Ira Kirkland, a physicist who became an advocate for those suffering from Alzheimer's disease and their families, and who later founded the Alzheimer's Disease Association of Maryland, died of heart and kidney failure Monday at Riderwood Village Retirement Community in Silver Spring. He was 89.

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Mr. Kirkland was a 1937 graduate of Taylor Allderdice High School and earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in physics from what is now Carnegie Mellon University.

During his 39-year career at the Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory, Mr. Kirkland worked on such projects as supersonic guided missile telemetry systems, missile test flight analyses and the AEGIS weapon system. He retired in 1984.

In 1949, he married Grace Mize, and for many years the couple led a quiet, comfortable suburban life in Adelphi.

Mrs. Kirkland was 66 years old when she began to suffer from memory loss. Six years later, preparing meals became an ordeal, and she began to withdraw from family life.

By age 74, she had lost nearly all of her short-term memory, couldn't be left at home alone and had to attend an adult day care center.

Throughout this ordeal, Mr. Kirkland cared for his increasingly disruptive wife at home. He helped her dress, cared for their home and tried to keep her involved in family life.

"I intend to take care of Grace at home as long as possible," he told The Sun in a 1983 interview. "But I know there will come a time when I can't handle her, when she will become bedfast, when she won't be able to eat or eliminate. I expect that she will eventually become a vegetable."

In 1977, in order to support families in similar situations, Mr. Kirkland established and served as the first president of the Alzheimer's Disease Association, which a year later became the Baltimore chapter of the Alzheimer's Association, a national organization.

He assisted in organizing the Maryland Association of Adult Day Care Centers and was its first president, and was secretary to the board of directors of the Maryland Gerontological Association.

"At the time Glenn started, there were only seven Alzheimer's groups in the nation," said Cass Naugle, executive director of the Alzheimer's Association's Greater Maryland Chapter. "Glenn started an organization that drew support from other Alzheimer's families and this helped fill in the information gap."

Mrs. Kirkland became the subject of Living with Grace, a prizewinning television documentary on Alzheimer's disease that was filmed by William A. Whiteford and Susan Hadary Cohen, filmmakers in the department of physical therapy at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, in 1982.

"Glenn's greatest contribution to creating public awareness about Alzheimer's, though, was his decision to open up his private life to the documentary filmmakers from the University of Maryland that filmed Grace's journey over seven years of the devastating progression of the disease," said a stepdaughter, Elisa Moriarty of Manchester.

A second documentary, Caregiving with Grace, filmed in 1987, showed Mrs. Kirkland in the advanced stages of the disease that had reduced her ability to speak to only one word at a time. However, with gentle coaxing from her husband, she was able to repeat nursery rhymes and sing. In 1988, the film received the John Muir Film Festival Award.

Mrs. Kirkland, who eventually was placed in a Gaithersburg foster care home in 1988, died in her sleep there in 1990. She was 79.

In 1991, Mr. Kirkland married Barbara Shytle Denny. Since 2001, the couple had lived at Riderwood Village.

At the continuing care community, he started Second Family, a group of volunteers that helped the elderly with various tasks, established Riderwood Village Church, a interdenominational church, and sang in its choir.

Mr. Kirkland, who held a private pilot's license, enjoyed flying and had been co-owner of a plane with two friends. He also was an avid ham radio operator.

Plans for a memorial service are incomplete.

In addition to his wife and stepdaughter, survivors include a daughter, Evelyn Smith of Gaithersburg; two other stepdaughters, Shannon Price of McLean, Va., and Lori Knowles of Overland, Kan.; nine grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

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