When Sally Faith was running for various public offices, she used the catchy campaign slogan, “Put Faith in Government.” When faced with re-election, it was “Keep Faith in Government.”
Over the past 10 months, if Faith had a new catchphrase, it would have morphed into something outside the realm of work and into something far more personal. A likely candidate in both title and lyrics would be Billy Joel’s song, “Keeping the Faith.”
Late last year, the former member of the St. Charles County Council (District 5), Missouri House of Representatives (District 15) and two-term St. Charles mayor, was diagnosed with early-stage dementia.
On Saturday, Sept. 25, Faith will deliver a 5-minute, 9:30 a.m. speech to kick off the Walk to End Alzheimer’s at St. Charles Community College. Coincidentally, she served on the college’s first Board of Trustees for a total of nine years.
Alzheimer’s is often described as a journey and Faith’s began when a couple of her girlfriends called her son, Howard, and told him that Sally should be checked out immediately for what seemed to be a deep depression. Faith said she was upset that friends didn’t call her directly.
“But I decided to go to the doctor,” she said. “My son went with me, and I told my doctor, ‘I wish these friends of mine wouldn’t have helped me.’ After giving me some tests, he told me, ‘Well, I think you should call your friends and thank them.’ He sent me to a neurologist, who was very blunt and said, ‘You have early dementia, and it’s not curable.’”
After the diagnosis, Faith thanked her friends, then she and Howard gathered more information about dementia. Although Faith had been a caregiver for her mom, who also had Alzheimer’s, she said she knew little about the disease, one of the more than 100 forms of dementia.
“I truly believe people should accept it,” Faith said. “It’s not something you want to wake up, have a cup of coffee and talk about but it’s important to get it done early. I can tell I’m changing now that I’m aware of it. Before, I thought it was because I was retired after working morning, noon and night for so long, or it was the pandemic keeping me from going to many places. I knew something was just not right. I just didn’t know what it was.”
About six months ago, Faith started seeking support. She found a group run by Nancy Young and also reached out to Mary Williams, who is in charge of the St. Charles Walk To End Alzheimer’s and knew Faith during her mayoral years.
“Mary talked about the upcoming walk,” Faith recalled. “We went to a meeting and she asked if I would be willing to speak there. I told her I would be honored. It’s not a secret and it’s going to be my focus to say, it’s OK. It’s not catching. It’s not something to be embarrassed about. It’s what it is, and we can deal with it the best we can. You need family support, and I need social support. I like people, I’ve been around people and I reach out to people. I want to keep in touch, and I want to do it now before it’s too late.”
Williams said Faith is an anomaly. “Most people don’t feel comfortable talking in public about any form of dementia, she said, “but Sally is just right for this role … I’m sure she will inspire many!”
After retiring, Faith had planned to write a book about her three decades in the political arena. But with her recent diagnosis, the subject of her book, which she hopes will be out at the end of the year, has changed dramatically. Its title is likely to be “I’m Losing My Memory. I’m Not Losing My Mind.”
“When all this happened, it’s like what do I tell my friends?” Faith said. “I told them, ‘I found out I have early dementia, and I’m going to write about how I’m dealing with it.’ Then, there’s dead silence. No one knows what to say. A few of them said, ‘I will keep your secret. I won’t tell anyone.’ After a couple of them said that I thought, ‘Wait a minute! I’m not a secret. I have things to say.’
“My call is to say, ‘Hey! You’re not the only one out there!’”
Faith said the book is “powerful, and it’s also painful” but it portrays the need for humor in our lives.
“I’ve got things to make them laugh,” Faith said. “The more we laugh, the more our heart listens and our head opens up. So, humor just has to be included. It’s sad that some people can’t laugh.”
Her advice, which she will share with participants at the walk, is simple: Don’t be embarrassed and make the most of the time that you’ve got.
To participate in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s: Participants can signup at the Sept. 25 event; however, it is highly recommended that they register in advance at ALZ.org/sccwalk. Walk participation is free, but donations are the goal. Walkers can participate as part of a team or as an individual, in memory or in honor of a loved one or not.
Each walker will be given a flower in one of four colors to signify their reason for participation. For instance, Faith could have a purple one for someone who has lost someone to the illness or a blue one for someone living with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. The sight of those flowers en mass is a signature of the Walk to End Alzheimer’s.
Williams added that there will be four separate entrances to the walks, and there will be free food, drink and other surprises for participants!