A psychiatrist, Butler was fascinated by death, and the human preoccupation with its inevitability. He observed that the average human lifespan had increased by about 30 years in the 20th century, but society (and medicine) hadn’t kept up with this fact. He founded the National Institute on Aging, founded the first Department of Geriatrics at a U.S. medical school (Mount Sinai School of Medicine — in 1982!), started and led the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry, and founded the Alzheimer’s Disease Association and the International Longevity Center, and served as chair of the 1995 White House Conference on Aging. Plus, he coined the term “ageism” — bias against the elderly. “Nobody thought research on aging was a legitimate field until Bob came along and convinced them to create a separate institute,” says Dr. Christine Cassel, president of the American Board of Internal Medicine, adding that Butler “created an entire field of medicine.” His 1975 book Why Survive? Being Old in America, where he argued that “Human beings need the freedom to live with change, to invent and reinvent themselves a number of times through their lives,” won the Pulitzer Prize. Dr. Butler worked until three days before he died, on July 4 from leukemia. He was 83.
From This is True for 11 July 2010