Beginning at the End:
Portraits of Dementia by Joe Wallace

© 2019 Joe Wallace

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Barbara-Jean Fox

The warm engaging smile. At once penetrating, and somehow hopeful. That’s the first thing that drew me to BJ when I met her. Oftentimes my subjects are quite nervous at the beginning of an interview. BJ was the opposite. She perceived that I might be nervous or reluctant to ask certain questions and tried to put me at ease. She told me, “I talk a lot. I love people. You can ask me anything.” She treated me like an old friend, certain that we would have a lovely conversation. 

 

Known to everyone as BJ, Barbara-Jean Fox was born May 29, 1940 in Roxbury, MA. Her parents both grew up in Boston and BJ was one of three children. Her parents were active in the community and hosted meetings for a Dorchester women’s group. BJ recalled that one night two members came to the house and asked her parents to take in a little girl whose mother had died. They agreed on the spot. Later, in similar circumstances, her parents adopted a boy whose mother had died in childbirth.

 

BJ told me, “My parents adopted two children and I was home with them most of the time. I was like 16 or 17. By that time my brother was in the service. My sister was getting married. I never got married so I took care of the kids and helped my mother with them.”  I remarked to BJ that her parents had set a powerful example of love, selflessness and compassion. She slowly nodded her head. Eyes glistening with tears, she said, “I love children. I was already really good with them. I get that from my mother and grandmother.”

 

BJ regaled me with stories of babysitting her adopted brother and sister and how she loved working with children. But when I asked her about her work life, she couldn’t recall the 25 years she worked at New England Telephone. Only with a friend’s prompting, did she tell me about assembling the phone books each year. BJ remembers her birthday but not her age. When we were talking, her mind would get stuck and she would repeat the same story every few minutes. BJ described losing her brother last year after a battle with Lewy Body dementia. But when I asked her if she was afraid of dementia she simply shrugged and said, “I have wonderful friends, I don’t need to worry. They will help me.”