Rushern L. Baker III hates needles. He grimaced at two of his grown children Friday as a tattoo artist inscribed the initials of Baker’s wife on his right forearm, after the curving, bulb-like symbol of the Alzheimer’s Association.
Baker, the Prince George’s County executive, agreed to be tattooed as part of a bet with his children, who worked with him to raise more than $5,000 to fight the disease that has robbed his wife of memory, mobility and speech.
Christa “Cis” Beverly was diagnosed with early-onset dementia in 2010, the year Baker won his first term as the leader of the suburban county outside Washington that is Maryland’s second-largest jurisdiction.
The disease cut short her career as a civil rights attorney and hindered her second job, as Baker’s closest political adviser.
Although Beverly no longer walks and hasn’t spoken for more than a year, her family says she still finds ways to communicate with and recognize them.
She lights up when her daughters are near or her sorority sisters come to visit the county executive’s home in Cheverly, Baker said.
He reads to her daily, vents to her about the stresses of his job and still seeks her advice. After 30 years of marriage, Baker said, he “knows her thoughts.”
“Occasionally, you’ll get a response that you can understand,” Baker said. “She’ll tell me when she thinks I could’ve handled something better. She’ll kind of look at me and bend her head, and I know she’s saying, ‘You should have done that differently.’ ”
The Baker family sometimes understands Beverly’s nonverbal cues differently, which may say more about where they are coming from than what she may be thinking.
During a recent dinner meeting about the possibility that Baker would run for governor in 2018, Beverly weighed in with a look and an eye roll, her family said.
“They interpreted that as ‘no,’ ” Baker said, referring to his children. “I interpreted that as ‘Bring it on.’ ”
Baker has spent much of the past two years appearing on panels about Alzheimer’s, attending fundraisers and running to raise money for research. On Saturday, he will participate in the Walk to End ALZ with his family at the Bowie Baysox’s stadium.
To date, his team, Baker’s Fun Bunch, has raised about $7,000.
Aja, his youngest daughter, called the tattoos “an everyday reminder of what my mom goes through.”
The ink “never goes away, and I’m happy about that, because the disease’s effect on my life will never go away,” she said.
As Baker gritted his teeth at the Red Octopus tattoo parlor in Hyattsville, his aides advised him to “just think of Ci-Ci,” using his wife’s nickname.
“Aja, I should’ve went for the smaller one,” Baker remarked to his daughter. “This hurts.”