Sociologist Riley Leaves NIH for Maine
By Jeannine Mjoseth
Sociologist Matilda White Riley, NIH scientist emeritus and founder of the National Institute on Aging's Behavioral and Social Research Program, is returning to her home in Maine. Riley, 89, will become research professor in sociology (honorary) at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, where she was teaching prior to joining NIA in 1979.
"The National Institutes of Health deeply appreciates the contribution that Dr. Riley has made during her tenure at the National Institute on Aging," said Dr. Ruth Kirschstein, acting director of NIH. "She is a scientist of courage and vision and will be greatly missed. Women entering the fields of sociology and aging have fewer professional barriers to surmount, in part, because of her pioneering work."
Dr. Robert Butler, NIA's founding director, recruited her to set up and direct a program in the social and behavioral aspects of age and aging. Riley served as associate director of NIA for behavioral and social research from 1979 to 1991 and senior social scientist at NIA from 1991 to 1997. She was honored in 1998 with the title of scientist emeritus.
"My intellectual and emotional ties to NIA remain powerful," Riley said. "Though geographically separated, I shall always stand ready to pitch in."
Brunswick holds nostalgic meaning for her. As a girl, she attended Brunswick High School, where she met her future husband, John "Jack" Riley, with whom she has collaborated professionally during their 69-year marriage. Following a brilliant career in the worlds of academia, foundations and market research, she went back to Brunswick in the 1970's as Bowdoin's first woman full professor. Bowdoin gave her and Jack honorary degrees in the same year (1972), and in 1996 Bowdoin named a building in her honor.
At Bowdoin, she will focus on "age integration," the breaking down of age boundaries so that old and young people interact and understand each other. The June 2000 issue of The Gerontologist is devoted to NIA's development of this topic. Along the way, she and her husband have long-range plans for a volume on their "joint lives as sociologists."
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