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PV man pleads to live what’s left of his life as he wishes

By Laurie Roberts, Republic Columnist
The Arizona Republic
December 10, 2008

R.B. Sleeth doesn’t ask for much. He wants to go home. He wants to marry his longtime girlfriend. He wants a dog. At 79, he wants to “enjoy the comforts of my home such as sitting by the pool in the evening, enjoying the beautiful sunsets.”

Instead, the Paradise Valley man has been placed in a lockdown Alzheimer’s unit for 10 weeks, put there by a son who apparently believes that his father’s girlfriend is a gold-digger.

Friends — including the minister who was to marry them and former Gov. Rose Mofford– say R.B. has been a virtual prisoner. So does R.B.

“I want Marge and I retired to our home, allowed to be married and live the remainder of our lives together in peace and tranquility,” R.B. wrote Dec. 1, in a six-page letter to the judge who this month must decide whether his son should continue calling the shots.

The son, Mark Sleeth, says in court papers, that he just wants what’s best for his father as his health declines. His plan: to cut all contact between his father and the woman he loves, to fire his father’s attorney and to have him live out his days in a “high-end quality assisted living residential setting, with the level of care and supervision commensurate with his needs and requirements.”

Which, in recent months, has meant locking him up with a bunch of people who don’t even know their names.

Mark’s attorney, Scott Ferris, wouldn’t discuss the case. But he said R.B. long ago decided Mark should be his guardian if the need arose. “Upon such appointment and consistent with the lifetime of love and trust shared by R.B. and his sons and with the full support of his brother, Mark Sleeth has at all times discharged his duties in accordance with the recommendations of the professionals,” Ferris said.

R.B., a retired executive with Armour Foods, and Marge Foley met in 2003 when Marge was taking care of Mark’s children. R.B. often came over to see his grandchlidren or to take care of things, when Mark and his wife were out of town, and they hit it off.

“As time went on, camaraderie turned into a very good friendship and then into love,” Marge, 73, told me.

After two years of living together, the couple made plans to marry. R.B. – who was seeing a psychiatrist for depression for depression due to chronic pain from an old injury – confided in October 2007 that his sons had threatened to put him in an assisted-living center and take over his finances if he married Marge.

Two months later, the psychiatrist wrote that R.B. was “perfectly capable of making informed, rational decisions and this would include the decision on whether or not to get married.”

The couple planned a Dec. 17, 2007, wedding in the rehab center where he was staying after back surgery. Minutes before the ceremony, however, Mark showed up with a letter in which the brothers questioned his fitness to marry and disclosed their intentions to have Mark appointed as their father’s guardian and conservator.

“We strongly believe that you may lack the mental competence to make a decision of this magnitude or may be vulnerable to undue influence or exploitation in light of your age, medical and physical history and rapidly declining memory,” they wrote, citing two doctors’ opinions.

Commissioner Richard Nothwehr appointed Mark as R.B.’s guardian a few days later, advising him that he must consider his father’s wishes and keep him in the least restrictive setting possible. By late May, R.B. was home again with Marge, with 24-hour assistance from caregivers.

According to court records, Mark limited Marge’s access to R.B. early on, setting rules about what they could talk about and requiring that they be supervised because she upset him.

But Michelle Romero, one of the caregivers, told me the couple had a loving relationship, noting that she wanted to cook his meals and help out wherever she could.  “They were so loving to each other,” she told me.  “He was so happy.  My goodness, every time I turned around they were kissing.”

By late June, Mark moved his father into his house, barring Marge and serving her with a notice to evict her from R.B.’s house. Then on Sept. 28, court records indicate that R.B. was put in a lockdown unit in a Scottsdale assisted living facility. He was there until Friday, when he was hospitalized due to a medical crisis.

Longtime friends are aghast. They say R.B. suffers from short-term memory problems but nothing approaching the need to lock him up.

“He’s surrounded by people who are wandering around . . .” said Pastor John Bosic, of the First Baptist Church of Scottsdale, who was to marry the couple last December. “When I visit him, people will look at me with this glazed over look. I go into R.B.’s room and he’s usually watching TV, trying to keep up on what going on in the world.”

Forty of R.B.’s friends have asked Nothwehr to remove Mark as guardian and to appoint a neutral person to oversee R.B.’s well-being. R.B. has asked, as well. Mark has offered to resign if his plan — no Marge, no attorney — isn’t approved. He would continue to oversee R.B.’s finances, as conservator.
Nothwehr has until late December to decide whether to appoint a new guardian. Meanwhile, on Thursday he’ll hear R.B.’s request to use some of his money for a psychiatric evaluation, to determine if he’s competent to marry.

Mark said in court records that marriage was Marge’s idea and that his father was relieved when last year’s wedding was called off. Friends, however, say he’s talked for several years about his desire to marry Marge. The say it’s obvious the couple belongs together.

“I wish I had somebody in my life like Marge …,” said Rose Mofford, who is 86 now. “I see love here that I’ve never witnessed before and only wish that God would have made it possible for me. As I get older, I would like very much to have somebody that was that attentive to me.”

Me? I just hope Nothwehr is attentive to what Rose and R.B.’s other friends have to say. More importantly, I hope he hears the man who’s been locked up for 10 weeks in an Alzheimer’s unit.  A man who can write a cogent six-page letter outlining what’s happened to him. A man who may be declining but is still living.

And would very much like to have a life.

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