Today the Washington Post and the New York Times carried obituaries for Robert N, Butler, M.D., the founding director of the National Institute of Aging and a pioneer on aging research.
In fact, Dr. Butler expanded the frontiers of what constituted research on the aging process and aging people. Before Dr. Butler came along gerontology was an obscure medical field that focused on diagnosing chronic infirmities of the elderly. As a psychiatrist, he brought vision to the field of geriatrics, helping the world understand that old age is a time of life that can be rich and well-lived. This conversation with Dr Butler appeared in the New York Times in 2006. You can also read a profile of Dr. Butler at the alumni publication of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University.
A friend of mine who worked in Washington, DC on Capitol Hill in the 1980’s, remembers Dr. Butler’s elegant testimonies at Senate subcommittee hearings at which he described the possibilities and potential of research to improve the lives of the elderly. He was an effective witness because he never spoke in medical jargon, instead tying scientific research to the hopes the everyone has for quality of life in later years.
Dr. Butler won a Pulitzer Prize for his book, “Why Survive? Being Old in America.” As a founder of the International Longevity Center which is affiliated with Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York City, Dr. Butler continued his work.
The lives of our parents have been positively and enormously affected by Dr. Butler’s work, and his legacy will continue to improve the lives of adult children as we move into retirement years. By reading about Dr. Butler’s life we can learn a lot more about our parents, why they strive for independence, and why they have worked so hard to live meaningful lives in their later years.
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