Bob MacDonnell bought land in Napa Valley in 1978, with his wife Jannine. He found joy in being a farmer and building his family business, Round Pond Estate, which his children Ryan and Miles co-own and operate today.
Kind. Generous. Thoughtful. These are just a few of the words Bob MacDonnell’s children use to describe their dad, known to all as ‘Lucky Bob.’ This past May, Bob, 83, passed away peacefully after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease.
Bob had an outrageous sense of humor — and sense of humility. “He felt very fortunate to have succeeded in life and wanted to help others at any opportunity," says son Miles. “After his passing, we have learned just how much. People have shared all the times he gave them advice, or helped them out, instances we knew nothing about. He didn’t need credit for doing all the things he did for others. It was just who he was as a person.”
“He spent a lot of time imparting advice and wisdom,” says daughter Ryan. “He always wanted to pass on ways to live your best life to everyone he knew.”
Signs of Bob’s impending diagnosis started as far back as 2008. “He would tell the same story or joke a couple of times at the same meal,” says Miles. “He started losing his filter at some point, too.”
Ryan says that these moments are what encouraged her husband Charles to sit her down to talk about what was going on. “He said: ‘You see this, right? This is happening. There is no question mark any more.’ We all knew that there was a problem. Now we needed to face it together as a family.”
Looking back at how their journey progressed, Ryan wishes for more open discussions about the disease earlier on. “I feel zero shame today, but I buried some of my thoughts as we began to suspect something was wrong with Dad. I think every family should have proper education about this disease, because if we had truly known what was coming, we would have been more prepared for what Dad was going to go through, and especially Mom, as his primary caregiver.”
Miles says that it was easy to explain little things away, until it wasn’t. “It’s so daunting to be at the beginning of an Alzheimer’s journey. You don't want to face this beast. You know the reality of the disease, and you don’t want to face it.” Today, Miles is not shy about letting families facing this disease know that it is a painful process. “But you have to keep going,” he says. “Spend as much time with your loved one now, today. Keep your sense of humor, because there will be good and bad days.”
In addition to individually coming to terms with a diagnosis, facing Alzheimer’s disease as a family means that people may be coming to the table with varying levels of acceptance. “I was scared to say the truth about Dad’s disease out loud to myself. It took so much courage to open up and just talk,” Ryan says. “When you sit down with your family, have open conversations and get the resources and education you need, you will better understand the disease and the Alzheimer’s behaviors on display. You can be more forgiving, more prepared.”
As they look back on their experience with Alzheimer’s, the siblings know that no one person can handle an Alzheimer's caregiving journey alone. “You may not know that yet, but it’s one of the most important things to know,” Miles says. “Reach out for support, and be as prepared as possible. Know that caregivers will be affected by this disease as much as the person living with it. And if you know someone on this journey, try and get them the help they need.”
A Father’s Legacy
Today, the Round Pond Estate “has dad running through it,” Miles beams. “His beliefs, his lessons. He would always say ‘People are everything.’ And I know that if we use that mentality in our lives, in our decision making, we will succeed.” He adds that all of the knowledge and wisdom his dad has passed on has helped guide him and Ryan as second-generation owners and operators of the estate. “From little things to big things, he is part of this place and that will never change. And today, our family’s experience with Alzheimer’s has given us a purpose to make a difference for other families. It is so personal to us and the people we know and love.”
United in the values and the legacy their dad has left behind, Miles and Ryan have a shared mission. “The way we treat our employees and how we approach our business is the way Dad would have,” Ryan says. “The outpouring of love from our customers and our employees is what keeps us going, as they continue to share their personal Alzheimer’s stories with us. We do this for all of them, and for Dad.”
Lectures of Love
Looking back on family memories, there are too many favorites to choose just one, from holidays with family friends to everyday moments around the table. “Family was everything to Dad,” Ryan says, “with friends coming in a close second. He was the most loyal friend you could ever wish to have.”
And ‘Lucky Bob’ was famous for his special way of delivering life’s lessons to his children and extended family and friends. “We call them his ‘series of lectures,’ and they really capture who he was,” Miles shares. “As a father, he tried to impart the wisdom he had gained throughout his life. He would always conclude these discussions with a smile, saying, ‘End of lecture.’”
Ryan says those little slices of wisdom were imprinted on everyone who heard them. She carries a booklet with all of the ‘lectures’ written down. “His humility, his kindness and his philosophy of life are what we try to bring to our lives and the lives of others every day,” she says.
On the Round Pond Walk to End Alzheimer’s fundraising page, the family shares: “Dad was known as ‘Lucky Bob,’ but the truth is, it was all of us who were lucky to have known and loved him. He will be greatly missed. Above all else, Bob wanted to be remembered as a great dad, which he was. End of lecture.”
During the month of November, Family Caregivers Month, Round Pond Winery is proud to donate 10% of the proceeds from sales of their Rutherford Estate wines to the Alzheimer’s Association. Learn more about Ryan, Miles and Round Pond.