FREEPORT — It was a long goodbye for Jeff Bartlett, who was diagnosed with “early-onset” Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 58.

Mr. Bartlett, who died Wednesday at age 62, was the subject of a Bill Nemitz column in the Portland Press Herald in 2008 that chronicled his illness and the ensuing journey that took him and his wife, Andi, across the United States.

It all started around 2005, when Mr. Bartlett began to experience unexplained lapses in his memory. At the time, he was a manager at The Woodlands Club in Falmouth.

In Nemitz’s column, Mr. Bartlett recalled the day he was walking down a hallway at work and “suddenly found himself frozen in his tracks, trapped inside a mental fog.”

“I couldn’t remember where I was going or what I was doing,” Bartlett said. “It happens to everyone, I know, but this was a little more serious.”

Those moments became more frequent and he eventually lost his job in 2006. Christmas came about a month later and he forgot to buy gifts for his wife and four children. He usually showered them with gifts.

“I had a lot of tears that day,” his wife recalled Thursday. “We all gathered at the table after Christmas and discussed it. It was incredibly sad. It was sad for the kids. It was a real loss of their dad.”

Answers finally came in February 2007. His neurologist administered a six-hour series of cognitive tests that led to his diagnosis.

The disease took away his ability to drive and live independently.

The next year, Andi Bartlett took a leave of absence from work and bought an RV — determined to make the most of their time left together.

On June 19, 2008, the couple set out on a quest to visit every state in the United States and hike as many mountains as they could.

The couple spent the next 10 months crisscrossing the country in their 24-foot RV, named HaRVey. They scaled the highest mountains in 36 states.

Mr. Bartlett had a passion for hiking. He and his wife hiked 100 miles through Glacier National Park in Montana. They hiked another 100 miles through the Wind River Mountain Range and Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. They hiked the Chilkoot Trail in Alaska and trails in Hawaii and Austria.

“We visited his fraternity brothers, old friends and family,” his wife said. “We had a wonderful time. It was gratifying and rewarding. It was the perfect adventure. We just loved it.”

The memories came rushing back for Andi Bartlett on Thursday as she recalled the early years when they met and the moments that brought them closer.

They met in college at the University of Maine at Orono. Andi Bartlett dated his fraternity brother and eventually met him. After her freshman year, he asked her on a date.

They were together ever since. They were married for 38 years and lived in South Portland, where they raised their four children. “He was very proud of his children,” his wife said.

About three and a half years ago, Mr. Bartlett went to live at the Hawthorne House in Freeport. His wife said she visited him almost every day.

“It’s been a long time. It’s been a long journey,” she said. “I feel like part of my heart is out like part of my heart went with him. He will always be my Valentine.”
 

 

Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at:
mcreamer@pressherald.com