|by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Do you intend to live to a ripe old age? To enjoy "the last of life for which the first was made," as Robert Browning wrote?
If so, you need to pause a moment and tip your hat to Dr. Robert Butler, who passed July 3, 2010 in New York City. He was 83 years old., full of honors and of years.
I knew Dr. Butler professionally and worked with him as a consultant to The National Caucus and Center on Black Aged. He was a much respected and even revered member of the Board of Directors. His fellow directors realized that they, along with so many other elder services, might not even exist without his pioneering work on aging.
Dr. Butler And The Invisible Aged
Until Dr. Butler and his ground breaking work, it is hardly too much to say that the aged, while everywhere among us, were not seen and were but rarely considered.
In a very real way, therefore, Dr. Butler discovered the aged and turned the spotlight on their deplorable situation. His 1976 book "Why Survive: Growing Old in America" won the Pulitzer Prize for its unflinching look at the how the elderly were systematically ignored, mistreated, forgotten, treated with contempt, neglect, and just plain cruelty.
This book made a great nation squirm with embarrassment and ensured that the aged would never be forgotten again, a finding which brought hope as well as some beneficial change to millions. It was but one in a lifetime of accomplishments.
To read Dr. Butler's accolades is to understand how one informed, persistent person can alter the course of human events and assist the process of amelioration and systematic improvement for millions, including every one now alive and aging.
Item: Dr. Butler was a founding director of the National Institute on Aging, one of the National Institutes of Health.
Item: In 1968, Dr. Butler coined the term "ageism", or age discrimination and lead a pioneering task force on the impact of age prejudice.
Item: Dr. Butler was instrumental in research that established that senility was not inevitable with aging, but rather a consequence of disease.
Item: In 2006 Dr. Butler lead another study that addressed age discrimination in the workplace, elder abuse, and the media's role in perpetuating and even condoning such abuse.
Item: at the time of his death, from leukemia, he was leading a committee on aging for the World Economic Forum.
Dr. Butler Understood The Power of Institutions
Unlike certain prophets unable to work within the system, Dr. Butler, a trained gerontologist and psychiatrist, understood the necessity to create institutions. He
* was founding chairman of the nation's first department of geriatrics, at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine
* was founding president of the International Longevity Center-USA in New York City, a research, policy, and education center dedicated to the field of longevity and ageism.
to name but two. He understood that permanent change required permanent institutions to foster and deliver that change.
What We Need To Recall About Dr. Robert Butler
* He saw what others either would not or could not see. Hard though it may be to believe, when he started his work the aged were largely invisible; their deterioration thought to be inevitable and assistance limited and powerless to present wide spread abuse. We thank him for seeing.
* He knew that public outrage could fuel widespread action. And so he piled fact on fact until had what was necessary to call up the outrage of a hitherto uninformed America. He knew we had the resources, once we had the facts and the desire to change the deplorable situation. We thank him for summoning the moral power of outrage and the best within us.
* He had the grit and determination to stay on course, continuing his research and institution-building skills. He, as Robert Frost wrote, knew he had "miles to go and promises to keep." We thank him for continuing, long after others, secure in their fame, would have stopped, literally up to the day he died.
I recall Dr. Butler as quiet, courteous, informed of course, always informed, but never pushy or arrogant, truly a gentle man. And ALWAYS fierce in his advocacy for the aging.
As you become one of them, you, like me, should be grateful for what he did to make your senior years as comfortable and productive as possible.