BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - It had been two years since 9News had observed Paul and wife Michele participating in a research study at the Pennington Biomedical Center. At that time, Paul's speech had become slightly halting, but he was still in command of all of his facilities.
In 2015, I called to ask for a chance to update friends and faithful WAFB viewers, Michele Gates hesitated only momentarily. "If anyone else but you would've asked, Donna, I might've said 'No.' But we'll do it with you," she said.
9News arrived at the Gates home where the couple lives with their adult daughter Valyne and their new grandson Kaden. Michele and Valyne are the 24-hour care for Paul, and if they were apprehensive about cameras interrupting the quiet home life, it didn't show. Valyne's 4-month-old son Kaden makes Paul so comfortable that everyone around him relaxes.
"Hey love, you see your Paulie?" Michele said to her grandson Kaden. Paul leans over the child with a big smile and coos… "Oooo weeee."
Michele snuggles the infant in Paul's arms and Paul's face melts into a serene smile.
Michele says Paul has taken to Kaden ever since he first came home from the hospital, "From the moment we came home with him, he knew exactly what to do. He'll hold the baby and he'll give the baby the bottle."
Paul studies the 9News crew setting up and nudges Michele who's sitting next to him. "What's the black thing?" he asks.
Michele says softly, "That's a camera." And Paul repeats, "That's a camera."
After 30-plus years, Paul does not remember that basic piece of equipment, and does not remember me either.
I asked Michele, "Did you do anything to prepare him for our visit?" And Michele said, "What I did was, I turned on the television, and I go, like "That's Donna" and he goes "Oh, Okay."
But it's clear, despite a few of the long-time 9news employees running camera equipment, no one seems familiar to Paul.
Michele says they keep the home pretty quiet; that she and Valyne try to keep everything in a daily schedule that is routine. "In the mornings, we all wake up together, and we have breakfast," Michele said. "Breakfast is usually the same thing. And then usually Paul would take kind of a morning nap. And the baby and I will rock, and Valyne runs her errands. And then we have lunch, and that's pretty much the same thing. He has lost his yearning for good food. No longer does he care. He's just eating to live, he used to live to eat. We both did, so I always make sure that it's something that he likes."
Valyne agrees. In fact, rather than cause him distress, she says to "Give him a hamburger, he loves hamburgers. So hamburgers, cookies, he loves cookies. He's satisfied with a Diet Coke and cookies, and he'll go lay in his room and watch TV and I'll let him be."
Juggling work, the two women take turns caring for Paul. Valyne works part-time for Acadian Ambulance. Michele sells Nerium Skin Products from her homebase.
The biggest adjustment may be just watching what were the hallmarks of Paul's personality slip away as his memory goes.
Gates worked for a year after his Alzheimer's diagnosis, and now four years after retiring, he can't recall his polite pitbull tenacity as an investigative reporter.
Michele says they'll be riding in the city and "we'll pass a place that he has done an investigative report and he'll go, he'll just immediately say 'Oh I spent a lot of time there.' And the truth is, it is where he had done a report, so it's just like, ya know."
"That's probably the most heartbreaking thing," Michele said. "As far as I'm concerned, he was a great communicator for such a long time. And so we've been together for so long that I can guess what he needs or wants. He doesn't have to say a whole lot.
I thought of crawfish as a way to relax the whole bunch. And as they pour the great big mudbugs from Tony's Seafood, Michele warns Britt that Paul may not eat it.
"His desire for food is not what it used to be," Michele said. "That was a big part of our lives. He said that he moved to South Louisiana because of the food, and and the pretty girls."
I asked Paul if he wanted a little bit of potato. Paul haltingly answers that he'll study it for a while and decide if he wants to taste. He ended up loving the boiled potato.
The 9News crew gathers around the table, as the crawfish is spread, and there is happy chatter.
Paul is surrounded by faces who may seem vaguely familiar. He seems to relax a little,
"Which one of ya'll gonna take the..." Paul pauses. Michele adds (take).."the baby home?"
Paul smiles, "the baby?" There is laughter in the kitchen. And that's what stays with a visitor, this is a happy house. Michele says their children Susan, Marshall and Valyne are always there and her extended family all fill the house with laughter, and especially in the holidays, they make Paul very comfortable.
Valyne Gates says she and her mom want old friends to visit her dad too.
"As far as people he knew but doesn't remember," she said, "If they come to visit, it doesn't really matter if he doesn't remember them. They're still here spending time with them and that's all the matters to us. Just because he doesn't remember, we don't want people not to remember him."
Each new day may have a challenge, but their faith in God, in family, in Paul...is what they say carries them through.