For nearly 170 years, E.B. Horn has been a fixture of downtown Boston’s jewelry district, still operating out of its original narrow, high-ceiled location on Washington Street. For almost one-quarter of that time—43 years, to be precise— one of the most recognizable and soughtafter salespeople in the bustling store was George Trachtenberg, a tall, handsome man with piercing blue eyes and a warm, gregarious nature.
The son of Russian immigrants, George Trachtenberg grew up in Chelsea, Mass. After a stint in the Navy, he married Daurice, a local schoolteacher, and had two children—a daughter, Randi, and a son, Ross. “My father grew up quite poor and never had the opportunity to go to college, but he always had a very strong work ethic,” says Ross, a Boston-area businessman. “He was justifiably proud of the financial success he achieved despite his modest beginnings, but his greatest joy in life was always his family.”
Shortly after his well-earned retirement from the jewelry business in 2000, Mr. Trachtenberg was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Last November, roughly seven years after his diagnosis, he passed away at the age of 71 from dementia related to his disease.
Spared most of the typical movement disorders associated with this chronic, progressive neurologic disease, Mr. Trachtenberg instead developed the slow mental deterioration that afflicts some Parkinson’s patients. “Over time, Parkinson’s drained my father of his entire personality,” says his son. “Given a choice, we would rather have had him in a wheelchair but with his mind intact. There are no words for how devastating this disease is.”
Daurice Trachtenberg, 74, admits that dealing with her husband’s mental decline was often terribly difficult, although she did her utmost to keep him engaged in life. “I used to take George everywhere, even when all he wanted to do was sleep,” she says.
But even a wife’s tireless devotion and a family’s loving support were not enough to prevent the inevitable. “Toward the end of his life, George had closed down mentally. He was unable to talk and had no memory,” says his widow, who now lives in Florida.
When planning Mr. Trachtenberg’s funeral last fall, his family remembered a handwritten letter sent by David T. Scadden, MD, Scientific Co-Director of HSCI, to Mrs. Trachtenberg, thanking her for a donation she had made to HSCI several years earlier.
Impressed by Scadden’s gesture for what they considered a relatively modest donation, and committed to supporting research that might find a cure for Parkinson’s disease, the Trachtenberg family decided to request donations to HSCI in memory of George in lieu of flowers. Ross’s wife, Laurie, even had donation cards and pre-addressed envelopes printed that made it easier for friends and family to make a contribution to HSCI.
“We are grateful to the Trachtenberg family and their friends for their support of our research to find cures for diseases like Parkinson’s,” says Brock C. Reeve, Executive Director of HSCI. “Because of current restrictions on federal funding for stem cell research, we rely to a great extent on private philanthropy to carry on our work, so gifts like this are very important and greatly appreciated.”
Ross and Laurie Trachtenberg are involved in numerous other philanthropic activities, but are especially committed to HSCI. “We want our donations to make a difference,” explains Ross. “We believe that scientists at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute will find a way to help people like my father who are suffering from terrible diseases. We felt the best way to honor his memory is to provide support for this important work.”
For information about how to make a gift to HSCI in honor or in memory of a loved one, or to support research of Parkinson’s disease and other nervous system disorders, please visit the HSCI website at www.hsci.harvard.edu or call us at 617.496.4050.