Rockefeller, Thompson, Owens have dealt with the 'long goodbye'

The sixth annual National Alzheimer’s Gala strikes a personal tone for many involved and receiving awards.

MSNBC “Hardball” host Chris Matthews, the master of ceremonies for Wednesday’s black-tie event, watched his mother die of Alzheimer’s disease. Award recipients Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and his wife, Sharon, watched Rockefeller’s mother suffer with the disease for many years before she died.

“As most of you know, my mother died of Alzheimer’s disease, and her struggle had a profound impact on my family,” Rockefeller said in a speech before the West Virginia Alzheimer’s Association. “It was a textbook case of the ‘long goodbye,’ as it has so aptly been referred to.

“The experience of losing her to Alzheimer’s disease was a slow and meticulous larceny — like randomly ripping a page from that book every day. Over time it grew increasingly difficult for her to recognize her own life, and eventually her own family.”

Maria Shriver will also be at the National Building Museum on Wednesday night to present Rockefeller and his wife with the Shriver Profiles in Dignity Award. Her father, Robert Sargent Shriver Jr., has the disease and has not been able to attend the gala for the past two years because of his condition.

The Young Champions Award recipient is Terrell Owens, a wide receiver for the Buffalo Bills whose grandmother, Alice Black, has the disease. Owens testified about it before a Senate subcommittee in 2003. “Alzheimer’s has affected my own family, so I understand firsthand the impact of this disease,” he has said.

Another award recipient is the president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy. He won’t attend; French Ambassador Pierre Vimont will accept in his stead.

In February 2008, Sarkozy unveiled a five-year plan to fight Alzheimer’s disease in France totaling $2.4 billion.

“This is a personal commitment,” Sarkozy said at the time.

Actress Lea Thompson (who starred on “Caroline in the City”) will attend. Both her grandmothers and stepfather died of the disease.

In past years, the annual gala has raised more than $6 million for Alzheimer’s care.