Legacy of Dr. Robert N. Butler

Dr. Robert Butler (1927 – 2010), a world-renowned gerontologist and psychiatrist, founded the International Longevity Center (ILC) in 1990 and was its director for 20 years. Dr. Butler dedicated his life’s work to advocating for the needs and rights of elderly persons through research and social action, and he worked tirelessly for decades to raise societal awareness of issues surrounding population aging. His numerous appearances in the United States Congress and hundreds of media interviews were critical in communicating the challenges and opportunities of an aging society to a national and global audience.

Dr. Butler recognized discrimination against the elderly as early as 1968, coining the term “ageism.” In 1975, Dr. Butler became the founding director of the National Institute on Aging (NIA) of the National Institutes of Health, and one year later, in 1976, the publication of his Pulitzer-prize-winning Why Survive? Being Old in America solidified his reputation as a visionary who foresaw the impact that population aging would have on American society. In 1982, Dr. Butler founded the first department of geriatrics in a U.S. medical school. Throughout his career, he was the award-winning author of several books on aging and longevity, including The Longevity Revolution published in 2008 that addresses the historic and current issues on aging related to a longer-living 21st century.

Dr. Butler’s vision to use the global reach and breadth of intellectual resources at Columbia University, where he had completed his undergraduate and medical education, had been an active and honored alumnus, and was a faculty member at the Mailman School, as a catalyst to expand the mission of the ILC and to increase its impact as an interdisciplinary center for research, policy, and education, was realized in 2011. The establishment of the Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center in 2013 further builds upon Dr. Butler’s legacy within the fields of gerontology and aging by solidifying a bold and innovative future for interdisciplinary life-course, lifespan, and aging work that will train a new generation of thought leaders in these issues, while also developing knowledge to inform aging-related health and social policy in NYC, the U.S., and around the world. Read Dr. Butler's obituary in the New York Times.  Read a review of Robert N. Butler, MD: Visionary of Healthy Aging by W. Andrew Achenbaum (Columbia University Press, 2013).