During a recent photo shoot at her Sag Harbor, New York, home, restaurateur and lifestyle expert B. Smith breezes into her sun-drenched living room looking every part the former model she was earlier in her career: willowy and statuesque, with sculpted cheekbones and of course, a radiant, high-wattage smile.
But her camera-ready appearance belies the fact that Smith, 66 and known as Barbara to friends and family, has suffered from early onset Alzheimer’s since 2010.
“She’s still model beautiful,” says Dan Gasby, 62, her husband of 23 years. “People make the mistake that they think it’s less serious because she is beautiful.”
Smith is in the mid-stages of the disease, which is “progressing,” says Gasby, a TV producer who helps manage the multi-million dollar lifestyle empire they created together. “It’s moving.”
“One of the toughest things, to be honest,” he says, “is that Sweetie doesn’t have great short-term memory. If you ask her to do something, in a minute or two she will forget that you asked her to do it.”
Adds Smith: “I’ll write it down and forget it.”
“I will remember what I said I was going to do and that I didn t do it, you know what I mean?” she says. “It makes me feel frustrated.”
Smith also has trouble in other areas, says Gasby. “Executive decisions, being able to initiate things and hoarding, which gives them control of their world.”
The daughter of a housekeeper and a mill worker, Smith rose to fame as a model before creating her own empire by opening three eponymous restaurants in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Sag Harbor, hosting her own, nationally syndicated show, B. Smith with Style, writing three cookbooks and being the first black woman to launch her own lifestyle brand. (She has her own line of home goods at Bed, Bath and Beyond.)
A Decades-Long Love Story
Wanting to share their journey with Alzheimer’s, Smith and Gasby wrote a new book, called, Before I Forget: Love, Hope, Help, and Acceptance in Our Fight Against Alzheimer’s, which comes out January 19.
While writing the book was “cathartic,” says Gasby, “it is also a clarion call” to Congress and the government to increase funding for research into finally finding a cure that plagues millions, mostly women and African Americans.
“I just want the government to do what the government should do,” he says. “They created the interstate highway. They landed a man on the moon. They have resources that go for so many other things in such a big way.”
The cost to a family caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s “is unbelievable,” he says. “What good is working 30 or 40 years and getting to an age when you should be in the golden years and losing everything? We had to speak out.”
While the book also provides readers with the cutting edge research they discovered while navigating Smith’s diagnosis, it also tells the story of the great love they have shared for more than two decades.
The passion that drew them together years ago was apparent when the two laughed about how he tried to take her out for a date, but got discouraged when he saw her hugging a handsome man in her restaurant.
“The guy was so good looking that I would have dated him, and I’m not gay or bi,” Gasby jokes. “I just said, ‘The heck with this,’ and walked out.”
Smith erupted in laughter and said, “It was just a guy I knew!”
When he finally took her on a date, he says, “I fell in love with her at lunch and we have been together ever since.”
So after all these years, do they still have that spark that shared when they first met?
Almost in unison, they look at each other, laugh and say, “We do!”
Even though the longtime couple faces tough challenges as Smith’s disease progresses, Gasby says they try to revel in every happy moment together.
“We pull to the positive and it’s no cakewalk, but at the end of the day, we work very hard to seek out the positives.”
For more on B. Smith and Dan Gasby’s journey with Alzheimer’s, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now.