The giver’s daughter
For as long as Naomi Randolph could remember, her father, Richard Randolph was a giver. “My father taught us about giving…give and keep on giving. He led by example because he was always helping someone in the community.” Richard’s example resonated with Naomi and her thirteen brothers and sisters. This would be evident as she grew up to be a giver just like her father. The tight-knit family of sixteen are well known in the coastal area of Bolivia, North Carolina, located about thirty minutes from Wilmington. It was here in Bolivia that Naomi was raised on her family’s 82-acre, tobacco and cotton, farm. Over the years the family farmed sugar cane, soybeans, corn, wheat, and butter beans.
At an early age, Naomi knew she wanted to leave the farm to attend college. In the fall of 1971 Richard, her mother Letsie Ann, and Naomi made the three-and-a-half-hour drive to Greensboro, where Naomi attended North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and majored in psychology. It was during her freshman year in college that Naomi noticed a change in her father.
Something was going on
Being new to college and new to Greensboro, Naomi felt homesick and would call home often. When her father answered the phone, she noticed he would act out of character. She described Richard as a “lively, laughing, joyous person” adding he “loved communicating with people.” When her typically friendly and jovial father answered the phone, Naomi was greeted with an agitated Richard who would bark, “What are you doing calling here?” She explained feeling homesick and wanting to hear a friendly voice. Naomi recalled thinking something was not right.
During Naomi’s matriculation through NC A&T, she noticed Richard’s behavior continued to change. When she tried bringing up her father’s abnormal behavior to her mother and siblings, they didn’t share the same concern and felt the family patriarch was fine. But as time progressed Richard began experiencing frequent “forgetful episodes,” which helped solidify Naomi’s suspicion of dementia.
On several occasions Richard would do things such as turn on the stove to prepare food, and shortly after the house would fill with smoke because he forgot the stove burners were on. Then he began keeping the kerosene heater on in the family home, all year long, despite the intense North Carolina summers. If there was any mention of how hot the house was, Richard would defend the temperature setting and forbid anyone to change it. Witnessing Richard’s frequent forgetful episodes and uncharacteristically aggressive behavior is when the family “started thinking that something was going on.” Naomi recalled “things really started going downhill” during the 1980s and 1990s.
I think he has dementia
In September of 1994 Richard was driving his 1968 Chevy Impala and was involved in a devastating car accident. He was attempting to cross a four-lane highway to go home. Richard entered the intersection the same time as a utility truck. The truck slammed into Richard’s driver’s side door, crushing the metal, and pushing the driver’s seat into the passenger side of the vehicle. Bystanders believed the accident was fatal, but Richard survived.
Everyone was shocked, Naomi said, “I knew God had blessed him to get out alive.” While Richard was hospitalized his doctors told the family they believed Richard had dementia, recommending the family place him in a nursing home. But Naomi and her siblings knew their father never wanted to stay in a nursing home, so they worked together to care for him at home.
Following the accident, Naomi said, “He just didn’t recover.” He was placed on hospice and when he stopped eating, a feeding tube was put in. During this time Naomi lived in Washington D.C., but traveled home regularly to help her mother and siblings care for Richard.
In 1995 on July 28 Naomi was in Michigan for work when she received word that her supervisor wanted to speak with her one the phone. When she picked up the receiver and heard ‘Naomi, your dad passed,’ she “lost it.” A tearful Naomi left Michigan to be with her family and say goodbye to her father.
All in the family
After caring for Richard for so many years, the family was more than familiar with the signs and symptoms of dementia. This made it all too easy for them to notice when other members of their family began showing signs of the disease. MacArthur, Naomi’s second oldest brother, began showing signs of when he was in his 70s. And Norwood, her fifth oldest brother, began showing signs in his 50s. Both are now deceased. Nora, Naomi’s oldest sister, was the last sibling diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She resides in Cincinnati, OH with her husband Albert and their four children.
Nora worked for twenty years as a personnel manager for Ford Motor Company, before resigning to care for her youngest child that was born with cerebral palsy. Albert, Nora’s college sweetheart, is her primary caregiver. Naomi visits Ohio as often as she can to help and spend sisterly time with Nora. Whenever Naomi calls or visits, Nora instantly recognizes her little sister’s voice, which is when the smiles and laughs begin.
In caring for their father and seeing three of their siblings fall victim to Alzheimer’s, the Randolph siblings discovered a pattern. Alzheimer’s has only appeared on the paternal side of their family. Their mother lived until she was 81 years old. Letsie Ann was the middle child of ten, none of whom were diagnosed with dementia. Naomi recalled “not one person on my mother’s side had dementia or died of Alzheimer’s.” But she remembers her paternal grandmother, Phoebe, being described as “senile,” adding there were several paternal family members diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
Joining the fight
Naomi retired from the Department of Education in Washington D.C. in February 2016. She moved back to her hometown. Following her retirement Naomi set new goals for herself. One of them being to help raise funds for Alzheimer’s research and raise awareness. November of 2016 was Naomi’s first time participating in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s. She has participated every year since then.
During the 2020 pandemic Naomi described how tough it was to get team members out to walk. But through her dedication and commitment, she organized a small walk within her neighborhood and submitted pictures to the Alzheimer’s Association. The small walk in 2020 inspired others in Naomi’s community to get involved, donate, and walk.
Since 2016 Naomi has developed a passion for raising funds to find a cure. Richard was a staple in the Brunswick County community. Given how active he was with local churches, Naomi reaches out on an annual basis for donations from several churches in the Brunswick County area. She has organized fish fries as well as received donations from people in the community that loved her dad and family. Naomi has also served as chairperson of a fundraiser for her local NC A&T Alumni Association that contributed to a $25,000 five-year Scholarship Foundation.
As the years go by, the seasoned fundraiser describes how age makes it more challenging to walk every year. But when asked about the upcoming Walk to End Alzheimer’s – Wilmington which is taking place Nov. 5, the motivated Naomi said, “I want to walk this year.” COVID-19 has changed how comfortable people are with getting together for events such as fundraisers. Naomi’s solution? Donate any money that would be used to purchase fundraising supplies, to the Alzheimer’s Association. She smiled and asked, “why pay money to raise money?” To date, Naomi’s Walk team, Brunswick Community Team, has raised over $2,600 this year.
Today there are eight of fourteen living Randolph children. Naomi and her remaining siblings still own the family farm, are still a tightknit family, and get together as often as they can. Naomi proudly carries on Richard’s legacy of giving and knows God has blessed their family beyond measure.
LIKE THE NAOMI, WE ALL HAVE A REASON TO FIGHT FOR A WORLD WITHOUT ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE. Join your local Walk to End Alzheimer’s today as an individual, team, or sponsor.
The Alzheimer’s Association hosts 17 walks across North Carolina. The Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s is the world’s largest event to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s care, support and research. Since 1989, the Alzheimer’s Association® mobilized millions of Americans in the Alzheimer’s Association Memory Walk®; now the Alzheimer’s Association is continuing to lead the way with Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Together, we can end Alzheimer’s. Your health and safety are our top priorities. We will continue to closely monitor CDC, state and local guidelines to ensure Walk events adhere to the latest recommendations.
|Unifour (formerly Hickory)||10/29/2022|
Alzheimer’s isn’t stopping and neither are we.
Dr. Kelli A. Uitenham, CCC-SLP
Dr. Uitenham is a nationally certified speech language pathologist. She is the owner of Serenity Speech Therapy, a private telepractice company. Dr. Uitenham is a medical speech language pathologist who specializes in adult and geriatric populations, treating articulation, cognitive, swallowing, fluency, and voice deficits. She has worked in skilled nursing, assisted living, and independent living facilities.