Family ties

Robert DuffieViolinist Robert McDuffie performed a concert with the Venice Baroque Orchestra at Emory to raise support for Alzheimer’s research.

Internationally renowned concert violinist Robert McDuffie remembers the day in 1996 when Emory neurologist Allan Levey diagnosed his father-in-law, the real estate developer Charles "Mack" Taylor, with Alzheimer's.

“He met with our entire family so that we all understood the implications of the disease,” McDuffie says. “He was always there for us as another familymember, offering comfort, guidance, and support.”

Almost three years after Taylor’s death, the whole family came together again last November to help raise awareness and support for the Emory Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC) with a performance by McDuffie at Emory. As McDuffie premiered a Philip Glass work, he remembered hearing Mack pick out Rhapsody in Blue by ear on the piano. Later his father-in-law would lose the ability to play or even recognize a melody.

Fittingly called “A Family Affair,” the event was exactly that: families affected by Alzheimer’s banding together to fight back and raise awareness for the ADRC, the only NIH-designated Alzheimer’s Research Center in the Southeast. Taylor’s family—daughter Camille McDuffie and son-in-law Robert, daughter-in-law Gretchen and son Andrew Taylor, and his widow Mary Rose Taylor—chaired the event that embraced a larger family affected by neurologic disorders.

Among the organizers were PR professionals Randy Jones and Cecile Jones, former NBC producer Charlie Ryan, fundraiser Barbara Howell, foundation manager Barrett Krise, and marketing professional Nina Cheney—all personally affected by family members who have had Alzheimer’s and/or Parkinson’s and many who received treatment at the ADRC at Emory.

Since the event, Mary Taylor has continued to grow the family team, drawing on her connections as a former broadcast anchor and founder and executive director of the Margaret Mitchell House.

“As I watched Alzheimer’s disease consume more and more of my husband’s brain, I developed a reverence for the brain,” Taylor says. “The brain is the last frontier of science, and we know so little about it.”

What Taylor does know is that, if solutions are to be found, it will take the best research and clinical trials at national centers like the ADRC working collaboratively with other centers. At Emory’s ADRC, directed by Levey, a multidisciplinary faculty from across the university sees patients in the clinical setting and does research on early diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of the disease. 

In 2010, its ongoing research received an $8 million boost in funding when the National Institute of Aging approved renewal of Emory’s ADRC designation, the highest status an institution can receive in Alzheimer’s research and care. Three current projects—from animal studies to clinical research—are examining the role of normal aging, the transition from normal aging to mild cognitive impairment, and the earliest stages of dementia. Emory researchers believe the key to preserving brain health is early detection of cognitive impairment, and they are developing tools for detecting symptoms that will become part of patients’ annual physicals.

As the Emory physician/scientists continue to explore the frontier of memory loss, the families of those affected by neurologic disorders are continuing with their own efforts to raise awareness and money. In April Gannett and WXIA honored the Emory ADRC in its annual Community Service Awards program, in what Taylor hopes will be a kick-off platform for a year-long educational television campaign about brain health. 

“It is said that genetics loads the gun, and environment pulls the trigger,” Taylor says. “We have to get people to think about their brain and how they might alter their behavior to keep their brain healthy. We have to find effective treatments, or this will become our children’s inheritance.” —Rhonda Mullen


Web Connection: To learn more about the Emory Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, visit or call 404-728-6950. To support the center’s research, contact neurology development director Barry Steig 404-727-9099 or


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