Trish Vradenburg, TV writer who crusaded against Alzheimer’s, dies at 70


Trish Vradenburg

Trish Vradenburg

Trish Vradenburg, an advocate to end Alzheimer’s disease and a television writer, died April 17. She was 70.

A spokesperson for the family declined to disclose the cause of death, but in a phone interview, her husband, George, chairman and founding board member of UsAgainstAlzheimer’s, described his wife’s death as “sudden.”

Vradenburg co-founded UsAgainstAlzheimer’s, which aims to increase funding for Alzheimer’s research and discover a cure for the progressive disease, a type of dementia, by 2020, with her husband, George, after her mother, Bea Lerner, died of Alzheimer’s in 1992.

She wrote a semi-autobiographical play about her mother, “Surviving Grace,” following a sitcom writer and her mom battling Alzheimer’s together.

Vradenburg was born Patricia Ann Lerner on May 9, 1946, in Newark, N.J. She began her career as a speechwriter in the U.S. Senate after graduating Boston University, where she studied political science, in 1986.

She met her husband, George, in college, “on a quadruple date to see Peter, Paul and Mary,” George said. “I had a date and she had a date with a guy she was about to get engaged to.”

“I took her to better restaurants,” George said, explaining how he won her affection.

The two were married for 48 years at the time of Vradenburg’s death.

She was a television writer for “Designing Women” “Family Ties” and “Kate & Allie”; published the novel “Liberated Lady” and wrote for the New York Daily News, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Ladies’ Home Journal and Woman’s Day.

Her survivors include her husband, George; daughter Alissa Vradenburg and son-in-law Michael Sheresky; son Tyler Vradenburg and daughter-in-law Jeannine Cacioppe Vradenburg; brother Rabbi Michael Lerner and sister-in-law Cat Zavis; and four grandchildren.

A private funeral service will be held April 20 in Los Angeles at Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary. Her brother, Lerner, and Temple Israel of Hollywood Rabbi John Rosove, will lead the service.

A public memorial service in Washington, D.C., is scheduled for May 9.

Judaism was important to Vradenburg. In fact, her husband, George, converted to Judaism as a result of his wife’s passion about her faith, though she was a secular Jew.

“She identified deeply with being Jewish and [I] converted to Judaism because she felt so deeply about her religion,” George, a former AOL executive, said. “I found this great depth in this community and purposefulness in the community.”

The two lived together in Washington, D.C., at the time of her death. They lived in Los Angeles and moved to Washington after George was offered a job with AOL. Vradenburg left L.A. reluctantly.

She “had strong affection for L.A.,” George said.

Vradenburg was raised by two philanthropic and politically oriented parents, Joe and Bea Lerner. Her mother was involved with the Zionist Organization of America. The couple inadvertently helped with the election of John F. Kennedy after throwing a fundraiser for him during the presidential campaign of 1960 that attracted Frank Sinatra, Harry Truman and others.

“They were credited with winning New Jersey for Kennedy. They threw a 1,000-person event on the weekend before the November 1960 election,” George said.

Vradenburg, a Democrat, inherited her parents’ politics, and her interest in current events enhanced her sense of humor.

“She was known really for her extraordinary sense of humor, her ability to bring out the funny parts of life, funny parts of conversation, the whimsical, the contradictions, and she did it through normal conversation, she did it so easily,” George said. “People liked being around her. I’m now being told how much joy she brought to other people’s lives through her humor.

“A piece of light in the universe has gone out,” he added. “There is a brightness that will be dimmed.”