Growing up in St. Louis, Richard Frimel assumed he would follow his father’s footsteps into the real estate business. Four of his siblings chose real estate careers, so Richard assumed it was in the family’s DNA. But after completing college, Richard’s life took a dramatic turn thanks to a chance encounter.
Richard was competing in a local tennis tournament in 1976 when he met an event sponsor, Gary Werths, owner of Gary’s Antiques & Imports. The two quickly became friends, a romantic relationship blossomed, and in 2009 the couple tied the knot.
“I lost the tournament, but I won the trophy,” Richard says.
Their story is one of deep love and devotion that lives on despite Gary’s passing in 2021 from Alzheimer’s disease. Determined to continue Gary’s philanthropic spirit and to move Alzheimer’s research forward, Richard made a transformative gift through Gary’s estate to the Alzheimer’s SILQ Center Research Fund at The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital.
The fund supports the pioneering research of Randall Bateman, MD, a Washington University neurologist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, and his team who have developed a blood test that detects early Alzheimer’s disease years before the onset of symptoms.
“By contributing to research, those dollars might not find a cure right now, but maybe they will take us one step closer to finding a cure,” Richard says. “It won’t elude us forever. Brain diseases are the last frontier of the human body that we don’t understand.”
The heartfelt gift through Gary’s trust to The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital fulfills Gary’s wishes to advance Alzheimer’s research and honors his impact on the entire St. Louis community.
A LIFE-CHANGING INVITATION
When the couple first met, Richard was just 24 years old and far from thrilled about his life in real estate. In walked Gary, a handsome art enthusiast and world traveler. He was outgoing and charming with a twinkle in his eye.
“Gary said he had the world’s best job, that it was the bestbusiness to be in,” Richard says. “He would go to Europe, buy art and beautiful antiques and bring them home. Clients paid him to do that.”
After the two became friends, Gary asked Richard to join his business, an invitation that changed his life. Gary taught Richard the business from the ground up.
Together they built a prestigious company supplying fine art to hotels, restaurants and other businesses throughout the Midwest. Their clients included decorators, designers and architects.
“Gary was my partner, my love and my friend, but he was also my boss,” Richard says. “We went to work together, went home together and we were with each other 24/7. We never even had two cars, just one.”
Thankful for their success, both men strongly believed they should give back to the community and generously supported local institutions and programs, including Barnes-Jewish Hospital.
“We always felt comfortable with the doctors and it is one of the top hospitals in the country,” Richard says. “It was the place we went for all of our medical care because we felt it was the best care we could get."
AN UNWELCOME FAMILY LEGACY
Members of the Werths family were no strangers to hospitals. Gary’s father had heart disease and eventually passed away from a heart attack. Because of that, a portion of the generous gift to the Foundation from Gary’s estate was used to establish the Gary Werths and Richard Frimel Heart and Vascular Fund.
Because Gary’s mother also passed away from Alzheimer’s disease, about 30 years before his own death, Gary began to suspect he had inherited his mother’s devastating Alzheimer’s legacy. His concern began when he noticed he was starting to lose the ability to do math and remember people’s names and faces.
“He knew something had changed in his life,” Richard recalls. “He watched his mother go through it, so he knew the ramifications of getting it and the hopelessness of the disease. But he took it in stride.”
WHEN SOMEONE NEEDS YOU
After Gary was formally diagnosed, the couple decided that Gary would stay in their home, where he was familiar with the surroundings. Richard hired a caregiver and the two made sure Gary was comfortable, safe and able to get outdoors. Richard says there was only one time when Gary openly showed he was afraid.
Richard was pulling weeds in the backyard and looked up to see Gary crying.
“I said, ‘Gary what’s wrong?’ He grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me and said, ‘I don’t want to lose my mind.’ I told him, ‘Gary no matter what happens I’ll be with you for the entire time. Don’t worry about that. We’ll just go one day at a time.’ That was the only time he made a gesture about what he knew was coming.”
Richard describes Gary as the perfect patient and says caring for him was never a burden.
“I never forgot who he was. That’s what made it easy to take care of him,” Richard says. “My love for him only
grew deeper as his illness progressed. When someone needs you, that’s when you have to be there. I was lucky to have him in my life.”
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