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IN MEMORIAM: Robert N. Butler, M.D., 1927-2010


Matthew Ozga - PHI

Robert N. Butler, M.D., the internationally renowned "father of gerontology," died on Sunday at the age of 83.

By rejecting the idea that older people have nothing to contribute to society — a widespread prejudice he dubbed "ageism" — Dr. Butler is credited with changing the way Americans think about aging and the elderly.

In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Why Survive? Being Old in America, Dr. Butler spoke out against the undignified conditions in which elderly Americans are commonly expected to live.

Lifelong Commitment to Aging

Dr. Butler was a pioneer in the field of gerontology. He was the first director of the National Institute on Aging, a division of the National Institutes of Health, and was instrumental in its creation in 1975.

Dr. Butler founded the nation's first department of geriatrics, at New York's Mount Sinai Medical School in 1982.

He founded the International Longevity Center (ILC) in 1990, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating Americans "on how to live longer and better, and…how to maximize the benefits of today's age boom," according to its website.

One of the ILC's projects, the Caregiving Project for Older Americans, aimed to improve the quality of caregiving in the U.S. by providing training grants and helping to develop a systemic approach to the recruitment and retention of caregivers.

"Dr. Butler understood the link between quality of caregiving and the quality of life for elders," said PHI national policy director Steve Edelstein, who worked with Butler at the ILC in the late 90's. "His work truly embraced the 'quality care through quality jobs' framework."

Personal Experiences Informed Life's Work

Dr. Butler often said that he learned just how strong and successful older Americans could be simply by observing his grandparents, who raised him. He took this idea of "productive aging" to heart, continuing to work until his death from leukemia.

His final book, The Longevity Prescription: The 8 Proven Keys to a Long, Healthy Life, was published just weeks before he died.

Click here to read the entire tribute from PHI.  

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