When restaurateur and model B. Smith was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s four years ago, she told her husband she wanted to help others dealing with the debilitating neurological disease instead of hiding away.
Dan Gasby is working to honor his wife and her wishes with his efforts to bring an assisted living facility to the South Fork that will serve people with Alzheimer’s and other memory-related diseases.
Gasby said he is collaborating with Maplewood Senior Living, a Connecticut-based company, to scout locations for a facility east of the Shinnecock Canal, where he said there is a “vacuum” of options. He said he wants to include elements that reflect the tastes of his wife — who previously hosted the syndicated talk show “B. Smith With Style” and authored three books on entertaining — and use the facility as a model for as many as 10 other facilities around the country.
“She’s an iconic person, and she’s broken down so many barriers over the course of her life,” Gasby said of his wife of 25 years, whose first name is Barbara. “Doing this type of thing in the Hamptons will . . . break down the barrier and allow so many other people to feel that if you can’t manage something, go where it can be managed and there’s not a stigma.”
Smith, 68, and Gasby, 63, moved to Sag Harbor in 1994 and operated a restaurant there — as well as locations in Manhattan and Washington, D.C. — until Smith’s diagnosis. They sold their Sag Harbor beach house earlier this year after Smith kept wandering off and in April purchased a 10,000-square-foot house in the East Hampton Town hamlet of Northwest Harbor.
The home is being renovated to include elements that Gasby hopes to replicate in an assisted living facility, including a relaxation room, UV lights, bright colors and lavender and ginger scents.
During a recent tour of the house, Smith, whose speech was at times disjointed, was otherwise vibrant and upbeat. Her years spent gracing magazine covers were apparent as she beamed and posed for photographs.
Gasby said he wants to keep his wife’s legacy intact.
“I don’t know how long I’m going to have her,” the former television producer said. “You should try and be inspiring as long as you possibly can, no matter what cards you’re dealt.”
Approximately 390,000 New Yorkers 65 and older have Alzheimer’s, a form of dementia that affects memory, thinking and behavior, according to the national Alzheimer’s Association.
“The number of Alzheimer’s cases is staggering, and more services are needed,” said Doug Davidson, executive director of the association’s Long Island chapter. “Having a state-of-the-art assisted living facility on the East End is a vital addition to the community.”
Those facilities are limited. Peconic Landing in Greenport and The Villa at Westhampton, which opened this year but is not accepting residents until August, officials said, both have memory care units and serve other senior populations.
At a July 11 board meeting, Southampton Town officials discussed Gasby’s plan and said they are working on legislation to make it easier for assisted living facilities to get zoning approval.
Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman and Councilwoman Julie Lofstad said they both had trouble finding facilities for their fathers as they aged. Schneiderman was unable to find a suitable one and Lofstad moved her dad to a facility in North Carolina.
“I know one of the complexities on the East End, and particularly on the South Fork, is the cost of land acquisition,” Schneiderman said.
Gasby, a commissioner of the Southampton Housing Authority, said he realized the dearth of assisted living options last year after meeting other caregivers while promoting the couple’s book, “Before I Forget,” with co-author Michael Shnayerson (Harmony Books, $25). During a speaking engagement for the book tour in Greenwich, Connecticut, Gasby met Maplewood president Gregory Smith, who invited him to check out a facility. Gasby did and was impressed, and the two began working together.
Gasby said he hopes to create a facility with between 110 and 120 units, of which about 44 to 50 units would be for patients with memory issues.
Maplewood, which operates 14 properties in four states, averages eight staffers for every Alzheimer’s patient, said Tom Gaston, the company’s executive vice president of acquisitions and development.
Gaston noted that Southampton Village could be a good location because it is more centrally located than other areas on the East End.
Gasby said that life as a caregiver can be frustrating, but that it compelled him to take action.
“For me, I had to make it better and feel empowered as opposed to shrinking away or living out our time together at some place you don’t have an impact,” Gasby said. “I choose to fight. I choose to change. I choose to make things hopefully better.”