Larry Ruvo

The beverage boss and philanthropist talks about the brain center, its impact and its namesake

Larry Ruvo knows firsthand the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s. After a two-year struggle with the disease, his father, Lou Ruvo, died in 1994. It was a turning point that led Ruvo to establish Keep Memory Alive, an organization dedicated to not only the prevention and treatment of the disease, but ultimately the cure. Ruvo grew up in Las Vegas, where his parents owned the Venetian Restaurant, the erstwhile Italian eatery on Charleston Boulevard. Ruvo, senior managing director of Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada, joined the company in 1969 and helped it become the state’s largest wholesale liquor distributor. He parlayed that success into another one four decades later: the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. Besides a building with a noble function (see page 30), Ruvo’s effort has given the city its first Frank Gehry. Both are gifts that wouldn’t be here without him.

What is your main goal with the Ruvo Center?

My initial goal was just to bring awareness to the disease. Fifteen years ago very few people knew of [Alzheimer’s], so I think that mission has definitely been accomplished. We have brought a lot of attention to the disease. My goal now, certainly, is to find a cure. But until that time, the next thing is to make people aware how important the caregivers are, and through our caregiving program, let the people in the families know that every patient has several caregivers. That’s something we’ve overlooked in the past.

What will the building do for architecture in Las Vegas?

Raise it to another level. People from all over the world—students of architecture, professors of architecture—are coming to see it. We just hosted the International School of Switzerland. It won’t do for Las Vegas what Frank Gehry did for Bilbao [Spain], but it’s going to create some major excitement in our city.

Now that you’ve broken the ice with Frank Gehry, will he consider designing more buildings in Las Vegas?

I think he will for me. We’ve talked about it, and yes, the answer for me is yes.

How close are we to finding a cure for Alzheimer’s?

I think we’re very close to determining early detection and I think we can delay the onset of the disease for several years. If we can do that now, it’s going to continue to get better.

What is your motto?

Giving back and sharing every blessing you’ve had. One person can really change the community. We’ve had a lot of role models through the years—people who have dramatically changed the community, [such as] Parry Thomas and Hank Greenspun. You see what those people can do, and they set an image for you as you get older that it’s your turn. The building has been open a few months and we already have more than 100 volunteers, and have had these volunteers say what a pleasure it is to be there. We had President George W. Bush to hear firsthand from the volunteers how important this is and how it’s changed their life since they’ve been afflicted with the disease.

How do you think your father would feel about the center?

I was always taught to give back and share, so I had this opportunity and I know my father would certainly be proud. What we’re doing is going to elevate our city into international attention. There is no place that has taken all of the brain diseases and put them under one roof and thus created this set-up of brain health. One intriguing thing that we’ve done is our symposium. We’re bringing some of the top people throughout the world to host our symposiums, and that’s how we’re going to find the cure.

What is one thing you would like to see happen in Las Vegas?

I believe we can remarket our city for the international traveler to get their wellness and physicals in Las Vegas and be a medical destination. With our partnership with the Cleveland Clinic, for the first time we have a partner that has an international reputation.

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