To honor my friend, John B. Hightower

For more than 10 years John Hightower has been a client and an appreciated friend. Let me tell you about this remarkable man.

A graduate of Yale University, Class of 1955, John was a captain in the United States Marine Corps. He is the former executive director of the New York State Council on the Arts and director of the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City. His life accomplishments include president of the Associated Councils of the Arts, founder and chairman of Advocates for the Arts, president of South Street Seaport Museum and executive director of the Maritime Center/Norwalk Aquarium in Connecticut. John came to the University of Virginia as director of planning and development for the arts, a position which put him geographically closer to his next leadership role.

As director of the Mariners’ Museum from 1993 to 2006, John established the $30 million USS Monitor Center, which documents the battle that changed naval warfare forever.

For those of us who regularly enjoy The Noland Trail, we sincerely appreciate the Museum’s support and maintenance, which expanded and improved during John’s tenure. All of us appreciate the wonderful sculptures throughout Newport News, knowing that John played a valuable role in their selection and placement as vice chairman, board of directors of the Newport News Public Art Foundation. We all owe John a sincere “thank you” for his contributions to the cultural improvements that help to make our community such a pleasant place to live and work.

Considering his accomplishments, John’s humble self-deprecating humor and manner set the character bar very, very high. His marriage with Marty also sets a high standard for how a compatible loving friendship/relationship should work.

Alzheimer’s has long been at the top of my most unwanted list. So I was shaken by John’s diagnosis earlier last year. Alzheimer’s places tremendous burdens on the families and caregivers and is the sixth-leading cause of death in America. It is the only cause among the top 10 without a way to prevent, predict, cure or even slow its progression. Research will change that.

While I can’t change it, I want to do something. In January 2010, I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro (19,350 ft.) in Tanzania on the continent of Africa as a fundraiser for a local charity organization. I was struck with AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) at the last camp before the final summit (15,358 ft.). To call it a thoroughly miserable condition is an understatement. The only remedy is to descend. The body’s need for oxygen trumps everything else. Some people are more susceptible (hopefully not me) and some are just hit at random. Like Alzheimer’s, AMS is an equal opportunity condition affecting people regardless of age, gender, physical conditioning, socioeconomic level, education, etc.

So, inspired by the problems Alzheimer’s places on families and by this diagnosis close to me, I am taking on the challenge of altitude again. This month I’m going back to Kilimanjaro. I’ll be climbing February 22–28, and progress can be followed at (DOMA is the climb identification code).

The Alzheimer’s Association is the largest private, nonprofit fund for Alzheimer’s research. My goal is to help fight this dreaded diagnosis/disease. I invite others to pledge support…not for me, not even for John, but to help find a way to keep Alzheimer’s away from you and yours. I’ll be paying my travel expenses so your support will go directly to Alzheimer’s research. I hope you will join me in going to to pledge your support.