(WDVM) — He was a man of many secrets, but his love for his country was always visible.
Tony Mendez saved the lives of many during his 25-year career with the CIA. But many didn’t know of his struggle with Parkinson’s disease, something he didn’t let hold him back.
Mendez was a mastermind behind several CIA secret operations. Some of his tactics helped the United States win the Cold War, and he planned the rescue of six American diplomats during the Iran hostage crisis in 1980.
Mendez is one of the most decorated CIA officers in history because of his thought-out plans. But, he couldn’t plan ahead for a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease.
“We wanted him to quantify and qualify what that diagnosis meant…and that was the first kind of soft landing we made, because we discovered that either they can not, which was probably true…and they do not want, which is also probably true, ” said Jonna Mendez, Tony Mendez’s wife.
Tony was married to Jonna Mendez for 28 years. Not only was Jonna his wife, but also his co-author and best friend.
“They do not want to map it out for you because it ends badly, no matter how they map it,” Jonna said.
Jonna said Parkinson’s did not slow him down, at first. One of Tony’s memoirs turned into the movie “Argo,” starring Ben Affleck. The film won best feature at the Academy Awards in 2013. During production, most people did not know about his diagnosis.
“Ben [Affleck] did meet a quiet, self-contained, introverted man which was not Tony Mendez,” Jonna said. “Tony was never quiet. He was very thoughtful, but he was an extrovert. So if you did not know him before, you would have known that that was the toll that the disease was taking.”
Life didn’t slow down for Tony after the film. If he wasn’t on the movie or the book trail, he was at a speaking engagement, with Jonna right by his side.
“I started speaking more and Tony started to speak less,” Jonna said. “I was filling in the gaps.”
Things started to take a turn for the worse when Tony started to fall, and would go missing in the middle of the night. Tony ended up at a residential assisted living facility in Frederick that specialized in Parkinson’s, which is where he spent the last five months of his life. His family was close-knit, and his son Toby, an artist, now lives in the home that Tony built.
“If there is any slight blessing in Parkinson’s and if you are an aware adult…is that you have time to express to that person in what you feel,” Toby said.
Tony Mendez died on January 19, 2019. The day before he died, Jonna was able to tell Tony one final thing.
“The CIA, just today, called me and said they cleared our book. It is okay. Everything in it is good. I can send it to the publisher,” Jonna said. “So, before I came over today, I pushed send on the computer. The book is in the year. It is going to be published.'”
“The Moscow Rules” was released in May. Jonna said this last book is about rules that everyone knew, but nobody wrote down, except for Tony Mendez.
“He will be remembered as a really creative, forward-leaning, an aggressive operational guy who did things…things that other people might not have imagined,” Jonna said.
After watching Mendez endure the pain of Parkinson’s, Jonna said she is ready to speak with local organizations about assisted suicide.