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NIH Record


Florence Mahoney, Advocate of NIH and NIA, Dies at 103

Florence Stephenson Mahoney, 103, a lifelong champion of health research and an unfaltering advocate for NIH and the National Institute on Aging, died Nov. 29 in her home in Georgetown.

"This extraordinary woman helped create the modern National Institutes of Health and the National Institute on Aging," said Dr. Richard Hodes, NIA director. "Her intellect and enthusiasm also sparked the development of other NIH institutes such as the national institutes on arthritis, child health and mental health. Like many others, I admired her enormously."

Florence Stephenson Mahoney was a lifelong champion of health research and a staunch advocate for NIH and the National Institute on Aging.

As a young woman, Mahoney pursued premedical studies in Battle Creek, Mich., and in New York City, where she also worked in a children's hospital. Before she completed a degree, she met and married Daniel Mahoney, publisher of influential Democratic newspapers in New York. Mrs. Mahoney parlayed this journalism connection into a role in Washington, D.C.'s power structure while the couple commuted to D.C. from their homes in New York and Miami.

In the late 1930s, the progressive Mrs. Mahoney lobbied for mental health and birth control programs in Georgia with Margaret Sanger and in 1938, the duo asked the Pope to remove his edict against birth control.

In the 1940s, Mrs. Mahoney joined forces with Mary Lasker, who was married to Albert Lasker, a wealthy advertising mogul. With Mrs. Mahoney's encouragement, the Laskers formed the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation to support biomedical research.

The philanthropic alliance between Mahoney and Lasker helped NIH become a world-class medical research institution. Eventually, Mahoney emerged as a special advocate for aging and mental health research while Lasker crusaded for cancer research.

Mahoney tirelessly argued for federal support of health research: in the White House, before congressional committees, and in her own home at her legendary dinner parties. She convinced congressional budgeters that funding health research could actually save money and lives. An unpaid lobbyist for decades, she shared her views with politically powerful senators such as Claude Pepper, Ernest Hollings, Lister Hill and Thomas Eagleton as well as many Presidents beginning with Harry Truman. The Kennedys and Carters also were Mahoney's friends.

In the 1960s, Mahoney began to push for a separate institute on aging at NIH. The goal, she said, was not to add years to life, but to add quality to later years. Although President Nixon vetoed the bill to establish the new institute, Mahoney's many friends in Congress overrode the veto with a two-thirds majority.

She served on many boards and advisory committees including those of NICHD and its advisory council, NIA, the Lasker Foundation and the President's commission on heart disease, cancer and stroke. She is survived by her son Michael.

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