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Former Newfoundland MHA and MP John Efford talks Alzheimers

Former cabinet minister John Efford was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease two year ago.
Former cabinet minister John Efford was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease two year ago. - Evan Careen

was diagnosed two years ago

BAY ROBERTS, N.L. —

PORT DE GRAVE, N.L. — John Efford is a man used to battles. Never the type to shy away from a hard decision, he fought his political opponents, private industry and sometimes even his own party. Now, he's fighting a different kind of battle.

At 75, the retired former federal cabinet minister recently went public he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease two years ago. A man known for his quick wit and keen political mind, he said he doesn’t let what’s coming bother him.

“I don’t allow it to worry me,” he told SaltWire in interview at his Port de Grave home. “I’ve got it and if I go at that I’ll make life miserable for everybody and myself. I get up in the morning and go where I always went. I go up to Tim Horton’s and I’ll chat with friends and so on. There’s no getting away from it, you got it, you have to deal with it.”

Pam Parsons, MHA, presented Efford with a House of Assembly certificate of recognition at a gala on Nov. 6 to honour him and the contributions he made to the province, country and the region. JIM WELLMAN PHOTO
Pam Parsons, MHA, presented Efford with a House of Assembly certificate of recognition at a gala on Nov. 6 to honour him and the contributions he made to the province, country and the region. JIM WELLMAN PHOTO

The disease mostly rears its head when he's tired, which wouldn't work for Efford, who was frequently said to turn on the lights in the House of Assembly in the morning and turn them off at night when he was MHA.

During the course of the interview, which took place over two parts because of an episode, there were moments when the change is visible, with Efford struggling to remember details, something in which he took great pride.

"I never used to forget anything," he said.

He knows he is lucky with such a slow progression of the disease but understands it means a final end to his long political career.

He retired from politics in 2006, citing issues with diabetes as his reason not to seek re-election in the former federal riding of Bonavista-Trinity-Conception, now part of the Avalon riding.

“I just made the decision at the time, a quick decision, to retire,” he said. “I should have sat back, took a vacation, went somewhere, talked it out and I didn’t. Ever since then I miss it.”

He would have run in the last federal election if not for this diagnosis, he told SaltWire, but now has to accept the political part of his life has ended.

“The hours, the nights, the days were unending,” he said. “I loved it. I have to be honest, I dearly loved politics. I loved the challenges, the debates, I love being able to help people.”

Outside of curtailing his career plans the diagnosis hasn’t had much of an impact on his life so far, Efford said. He has a sister with the disease who is at a more advanced stage so he knows what to expect.

“It’s a disease that has no cure for it and you have to learn to live with it, deal with it,” he said. “You’ll have flare-ups now and then but that’s part of it. The one thing that I fear is reaching the stage where I have to be put into a home. I have a sister who doesn’t know her own name, she doesn’t know who is, where she is, the name of any of the family. That’s common with Alzheimer’s.”

Recently honoured

The Port de Grave Peninsula Heritage Society held a gala on Nov. 6 to honour Efford and the contributions he made to the province, country and the region.Recently honoured

The group presented him the inaugural Fishers Feast award and had a street in the community named after him.

Premier Dwight Ball and senator Fabian Manning spoke at the event, among others, but it was the local people who gave him the honour.

Efford said meant a lot.

“I often said it’s nice to give people a pat on the back, they feel great,” he said. “To be able to look at someone and say ‘I really appreciate what you did, thank you very much,’ that goes a long way. That is going to carry me to the end of my days. There’s no doubt about it.”

evan.careen@thelabradorvoice.ca

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