One of the founders of the Doreen Grace Brain Center in Mashpee, an activist for more attention and resources to be given to diseases of the brain, Eleanor C. Grace, has died.
Eleanor (Carter) Grace of West Falmouth died last Thursday at age 84 in Lowell.
Along with her late husband, Richard, Ms. Grace co-founded the Doreen Grace Brain Center in New Seabury after the passing of their daughter Doreen in 1976 from a rare brain virus. Doreen was a 19-year-old college student at the time she fell ill on Christmas Eve in 1974.
“Christmas Eve, 1974, changed our lives forever,” Ms. Grace said during a talk before the Women’s Club of New Seabury in 2003. From that day until Doreen died, she said, information on her condition was sparse. “We did not receive one bit of encouragement that she would live.”
The experience prompted the Graces to use the tragedy to help other families and individuals.
With the $42 Doreen had remaining in her bank account, the Graces set out on a trip to spread the message of the importance of brain research. On their journey, they realized the country lacked a conference center dedicated to serving as a gathering place for researchers, and the idea for the brain center was hatched.
Fundraising for the Brain Center brought Ms. Grace into contact with people throughout Mashpee, but no effort was more prominent than a series of hot air balloon races, first run in 1977. After the first race from the Barnstable County Fairgrounds proved popular, subsequent races were held at New Seabury, at the invitation of Christopher Burden, who offered in 1978 to donate the land for the center.
The creative fundraising efforts, which also included a cross-country run and a swim across Vineyard Sound, were followed by an extraordinary volunteer effort that included help clearing the land, constructing the building, and landscaping it upon completion. Then Mashpee residents Richard E. and Helena M. Wasil donated 51 acres of land to the project, which the Graces subdivided and sold for money to begin construction.
“No one wanted any recognition,” Ms. Grace said in 2003. “Everyone who helped us had tragedy, some terrible tragedy in their lives.”
The Brain Center opened in April 1987. The programs offered at the center attracted medical specialists from around the world. While the doctors concentrated on sharing their knowledge and research, the Graces offered their assistance to lay people searching for help, a need they realized when trying to find information and services for Doreen.
Through the work of the Brain Center, Ms. Grace was instrumental in helping many families afflicted with brain trauma ranging from Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and Alzheimer’s disease to alcoholism.
For her work on the Brain Center, Ms. Grace was the recipient of the Women’s Club of New Seabury’s first Humanitarian Award, in 2003, and was given a “Pioneering Women” award by Cape Cod Community College in 2009.
The Graces received the Lifetime Achievement award from the Mashpee Chamber of Commerce in 1998.
The Graces later attempted to expand the reach of the brain center with a proposal for a hotel and conference center on six acres of town-owned land in the Mashpee Industrial Park. The bold, innovative concept, developed in conjunction with the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, called for an 89-room lodging and conference and learning center for corporate, medical, and scientific guests of the Brain Center. All proceeds of the inn after operating costs were to be donated to research and education efforts by the Brain Center and MBL to help conquer diseases of the brain.
The project generated much publicity in Mashpee but did not come to fruition due to legal and fundraising problems.
This year the brain center was donated to an organization that will use it to help veterans suffering from brain injuries.
Ms. Grace also helped her husband do research for his three books, as well as assist him in the editing of several documentary films on Cape Cod.
She was born in Boston, the daughter of George H. and Rose (Bucci) Carter. She graduated from Lesley University in Cambridge.
Early in her career, Ms. Grace taught school in Darien, Connecticut, and then left to work with her husband in the family advertising, marketing and public relations firm TNT Inc., based in Acton.
Mr. Grace, to whom Ms. Grace was married for 55 years, died of brain cancer on January 30, 2007.
Ms. Grace is survived by her son Richard, with whom she lived in Westford since her paralyzing stroke in October 2008.
A memorial Mass will be celebrated on Thursday, December 13, at 11 AM at Sacred Hearts Retreat Center, 226 Great Neck Road in Wareham.
A burial ceremony will follow at the Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Veterans’ Outreach Center, 569 Main St., Hyannis, MA 02601, with “For the Grace Center” in the legend of the check.
(Material from an obituary submitted by the Grace family and information from the Enterprise archives was used in this report.)