Former Dartmouth administrator Andy Harvard dies of Alzheimer’s at 69 

  • Andy and Kathy Harvard are interviewed at their home in Hanover, N.H., on March 4, 2018. (Concord Monitor - Geoff Forester)

Monitor staff
Published: 1/18/2019 5:04:55 PM

Andy Harvard was handed a death sentence at age 59, but he refused to stop living.

The former Dartmouth College administrator, corporate lawyer and accomplished mountaineer, decided to share the story of his journey with younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease with readers of the Monitor, in our series “Stolen Memories,” and through a documentary, The Final Climb, produced by his wife, Kathy.

“I think it takes a very, very brave person to go public with something like this,” Kathy said last year, after Harvard had lost the ability to talk. “But Andy has always been that kind of person.”

Harvard of Hanover died Wednesday morning at Dartmouth- Hitchcock’s Jack Byrne Center for Palliative and Hospice Care in Lebanon, his family said. At age 69, he had fought Alzheimer’s for 10 years – longer than many people live with the disease.

He was surrounded by loved ones, said Dartmouth professor Bill Phillips, who is directing The Final Climb, and saw Harvard the day before he died.

“I told him how proud we were of his life, and of his wife, and that we would try to do justice to his brave efforts in the film we’re making,” Phillips said.

Like most people with younger-onset Alzheimer’s, Harvard’s diagnosis was drawn out and full of challenges.

In 2008, when he was 58, Harvard was fired from his job as director of outdoor programs at Dartmouth after he missed deadlines, didn’t return emails, skipped meetings and would disappear from his office for long periods of time.

The decision came as a shock to Harvard’s family. Harvard was highly respected in the Dartmouth community – he was an alumnus and had successfully navigated multiple treks on Mount Everest.

“What they were saying was the exact opposite of who Andy was,” Kathy said. “It all really seemed to come out of the blue.”

A year later, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease is notoriously difficult to diagnose. Symptoms that may be attributed to Alzheimer’s in older patients are often attributed to stress, depression, anxiety and lack of sleep in younger patients. It often takes years of testing to get a diagnosis.

In a 2006 Alzheimer’s Association survey, one-third of the people with younger-onset Alzheimer’s said it took them from one to six years to receive an accurate diagnosis. Later studies have estimated that as many as 50 percent of people of all ages with the disease never receive a diagnosis.

After Harvard was diagnosed, his family returned to Dartmouth looking for the disability payment he would have been entitled to if he were diagnosed while still working. Those benefits, paid out over six years and ending before he turned 65, would have totaled more than $200,000.

That money would have helped the Harvard family a lot: Just a year in a nursing home can cost around $100,000. But the college refused, saying that his performance problems prior to his termination should have alerted his family that something was wrong.

A legal battle over that decision went on for years and is still unresolved in the eyes of Harvard’s family. But they put their energy into trying to make his life as fulfilling, comfortable and as full of love as possible, Kathy said.

He leaves behind his wife and lifelong friend, as well as three children.

Kathy said Andy was always a private person before his diagnosis.

“We were always like, ‘Got a problem, handle it yourself,’ ” Kathy said. “But we realized it’s not just our problem. It’s a huge problem for a lot of people. And as long as we stay silent, they’ll feel like they have to stay silent, too.”

Work on The Final Climb is still underway, Phillips said. For him, it has been a passion project as he built relationships with Harvard and his family.

“It makes a huge difference whether you’re making a film about an idea or about someone you love, for someone you love,” Phillips said. “That’s much more energizing, and you have to get it right.”

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