A son-in-law tenders his talents to help those with AMD
One of the best things about Alan Brooks is his voice. It's smooth, soothing. One of those rhythmical lilts that could lull you to sleep. Or convince you to buy, well, anything.
Brooks has put his instrument to good use, working as an actor for commercials, television and stage for nearly four decades. Perhaps you saw him during this year's Super Bowl in one of the coveted commercial spots that vie for attention during breaks in the action. He played the boss in the Bud Light commercial. (To which his agent said: "Congratulations! No one over 30 gets beer commercials!")
Didn't catch the ad? No worries: If all goes well, you'll soon be able to hear those dulcet tones through the *Macular Degeneration Partnership and Discovery Eye Foundation websites.
A Native Californian, Brooks has worked as an equity actor in regional theaters around the world, as well as a voice-over actor and drama teacher in Southern California. His wife of 33 years, Dorothy, is also an actor; they met while earning their MFAs in drama.
From Upstate New York, Dorothy and her three brothers were raised by a travelling-salesperson father and a "fiercely independent" mother. Dorothy's mother, Jessie Dee, has been dealing with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) for about sixteen years.
"She was in her early 80s when her vision started to deteriorate," Brooks says. "She kept an [Amsler Grid] on her refrigerator to track the disease's progress."
"My wife and I really worried about her in her home alone in Buffalo," he says. "She didn't want to give up her independence – or her driving. But we really wanted to find a way to help her balance her desire to be independent with her safety."
"Those discussions didn't always go down easily," he recalls. "As the son-in-law, I stayed on the sidelines and played an advisory role while the negotiations went on." Dorothy eventually prevailed, and her mother left the harsh Buffalo winters behind five years ago.
Dee is now loving a sun-filled existence in Florida, where she lives in an independent living facility. Though she no longer drives and sometimes uses a walker to get around, she is very active and even runs a group for visually challenged people.
"She's incredibly proactive," Brooks says. "She's 89 years old and legally blind, and she just got a computer. She is undergoing training to learn how to use it. She's quite brave."
Theirs is a far cry from the stereotypical in-law relationships decried in many a stand-up comedy routine, and Brooks is clearly fond and proud of Dee. In fact, he is particularly gratified by his role as a sort of amateur travel agent in planning trips a few years ago for his wife and mother-in-law to visit Ireland, as well as the California coast.
"My wife really wanted her mother to see California while she still had her sight," Brooks says. "They had a great time, and I'm proud I could plan the whole trip with consideration for her visual challenges."
Dee greatly enjoys listening to books on CD, and, coincidentally, Brooks and his wife had been involved in recording books for the blind when they lived in New York City in the 1980s. It's something Brooks thought of again recently, when he decided he wanted to "give back to society." The Lighthouse in New York put him in touch with Judi Delgado, executive director of the Macular Degeneration Partnership.
"Alan is so warm and so willing to volunteer. And that voice! I could listen to him all day," Delgado says. "We are looking into having Alan record some parts of our amd.org website and the DEF website (www.amd.org, www.discoveryeye.org), so visually impaired visitors – such as his mother-in-law – can hear news and information about macular degeneration, treatments and ways to cope. We are so grateful to have someone with his skills willing to donate his time and talent to MDP and DEF."
"The dissemination of information is one of the greatest tools we have," Brooks says. "The Macular Degeneration Partnership has valuable, understandable information that can help patients prevent disease and cope with problems. They should never have to say, ?If only I'd known' or ?If only I'd understood.' If I can help distill information about macular degeneration into something people can access and understand, then I'll have done something very important."
Posted January 2011
*The Macular Degeneration Partnership became a program of the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute, UC Irvine in 2016.