skip navigation nih record
Vol. LXII, No. 17
August 20, 2010

previous story

next story


Founding Director of NIA, Butler Dies

Dr. Robert N. Butler

The aging world lost a passionate and influential advocate when Dr. Robert N. Butler died of leukemia on July 4 in New York City. He was 83. A gerontologist and psychiatrist, he became NIA’s founding director on May 1, 1976.

For half a century, Butler used his intelligence, persuasiveness and personal charm to convince legislators, clinicians and academics that older people could and should have better lives, free of age discrimination and enhanced by effective and available health care.

“Bob Butler was a pioneer who sought to redefine aging, for both individuals and society,” said NIA director Dr. Richard Hodes. “He challenged the status quo, looking at what can be achieved in later life, not at what might be lost. The field of aging research—and anyone seeking a better life with age—has lost a best friend.”

At NIA, Butler set in place a visionary research endeavor, building a broad program of basic, biomedical, social and behavioral research that remains at the core of NIA’s efforts today. He stressed preventive medicine and promoted exercise, a healthy diet and avoiding the adverse effects of tobacco, alcohol and caffeine. He is quoted as saying, “If exercise were a pill, everybody would take it.”

In the first 2 years of his tenure at NIA, most of the institute’s extramural grants were awarded to studies in biological sciences while a modest number went to studies in social and psychological sciences and a small number to investigative medicine. Butler envisioned greater support in all these areas with the addition of innovative studies on health care and human services delivery.

Butler sounded an early warning about the growing number of people with Alzheimer’s disease. He collaborated with university scientists and private citizens in creating the Alzheimer’s Association. Along with Dr. Donald Tower, who was then director of what is now NINDS, Butler organized the first national scientific meeting on AD at NIH in 1977 and a subsequent meeting in 1979 to plan the formation of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Butler also initiated the “Teaching Nursing Home” program to focus on problems in geriatric care in nursing homes and created the “Geriatric Medicine Academic Award” for career development in geriatric care.

One of his lasting contributions was the formation of NIA. “Dr. Butler was precisely the kind of director the NIA needed during its formative years,” said David Chicchirichi, Sr., NIA’s first executive director. “His charisma, energy and creativity attracted a great deal of attention throughout the research community as well as the general public.”

Within days of his arrival, Butler learned he won a Pulitzer Prize for his book, Why Survive? Being Old in America. Jane Shure, NIA’s first communications director, remembers Butler’s tireless efforts to promote research on aging and the interests of older people.

“He cultivated the press and enlisted them in his campaign to dramatically change people’s attitudes toward aging—to abolish ageism, to promote geriatric medicine and to separate aging from disease,” she said. “We were on the frontier of social change. It was always exciting and personally rewarding.”

Dr. Richard Suzman, director of NIA’s Division of Behavioral and Social Research, remembers meeting Butler more than 30 years ago. “He was a soft-spoken, gracious and courtly person, totally devoted to aging research and convinced of the need to integrate behavioral science into the effort,” he said, adding that this was a time when social and behavioral sciences were not considered an integral part of biomedical research.

After leaving NIH in 1982, Butler became director of the new department of geriatrics at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. He continued his advocacy for older people when he founded the International Longevity Center U.S.A., a non-profit research, policy and education center of longevity and aging with branches in nine other countries.

“Robert Butler was influential in the lives of an untold number of aging researchers and geriatricians. I will continue to be personally grateful to him for his advice to the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation that led to funding two departments of geriatrics—one of which I chaired prior to coming to NIA,” said NIA deputy director Dr. Marie Bernard. “He always had time to talk with and advise a younger colleague.”

Butler’s empathy for older people began early. Born in New York City in 1927, he was raised by his grandparents on a chicken farm in New Jersey where he witnessed the struggle to survive by older people of that era.

He graduated from Columbia College and received his medical degree from Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. After his residency at the University of California, San Francisco, he joined NIMH as a research psychiatrist in 1955. From 1962-1976, he had a similar position at the Washington School of Psychiatry. He served as a warrant officer in the U.S. Maritime Service from 1944-1947 and in the Public Health Service from 1955-1962.

He held faculty appointments at Howard and George Washington University schools of medicine, was a founding fellow of the American Geriatrics Society, helped start the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry and was chair of the 1995 White House Conference on Aging.

A prolific author, Butler wrote more than 100 articles for professional journals. Three books, Aging and Mental Health, Sex After Sixty and The New Love and Sex After 60 were written with his second wife, Myrna Lewis, who died in 2005. In 2008, The Longevity Revolution: The Benefits and Challenges of Living a Long Life, was published.

Butler is survived by three daughters from his first marriage to Diane McLaughlin, a daughter from his marriage to Lewis, and six grandchildren.

Adler, First NIH Record Editor, Mourned

Alexander Adler

Alexander Adler, 90, who served as founding editor of the NIH Record, died June 22.

He started the newsletter in May 1949, when he was a scientific information specialist in the Scientific Reports Branch, Office of the Director, and was editor until February 1950.

Adler had initially come to NIH in 1940 as a laboratory assistant. He had taken a premed curriculum at City College of New York and George Washington University, but also took courses in journalism at American University and in marketing/advertising at New York University.

During World War II, he served on several Army Medical Corps research teams. When the war ended, he returned briefly to NIH before spending 7 years as a pharmaceutical advertising executive.

He returned to NIH in 1957 as the first information officer at the Division of Research Grants (now the Center for Scientific Review). He spent 10 years in that position and later worked for NIH’s Division of Physician Manpower and for the Health Resources Administration, from which he retired in 1984.

Upon Adler’s retirement, after 36 years of federal service and 32 years in the Public Health Service, a long-time PHS colleague, Lealon E. Martin, noted, “Alex was instrumental in planning, creating and implementing NIH’s first general periodical, not a scientific journal but a fine type of science news letter—the NIH Record.”

Even long after his retirement, Adler kept his NIH ties strong. He served on the board of the NIH Alumni Association and contributed an editorial to the NIH Record on the occasion of its 50th anniversary in 1999.

“He loved NIH and it seemed to be fate that his last days were spent at Carriage Hill of Bethesda, a nursing and rehabilitative facility directly across the street from the NIH campus,” said his daughter, Alison B. Adler. “Shortly after my father entered Carriage Hill, I wheeled him over to a large picture window where he had a panoramic view of the NIH campus and the Clinical Center. He said to me, ‘Those were the best years of my life.’”

Adler’s wife, Ruth Gratt Adler, died in 2004. In addition to Alison, of Washington, D.C., he is survived by another daughter, Linda J. Adler of Bethesda, and two grandchildren.

Acquisition Authority, Community Activist Henn Mourned

Alexander Adler

Carl Henn, 48, NIH Acquisition Career Program manager in the Office of Acquisition and Logistics Management, OD, died July 27 at Washington Hospital Center after injuries sustained during a violent thunderstorm on July 25. He was struck by lightning while attending a picnic at King Farm Park in Rockville.

Born and raised in Ohio, Henn earned a political science/public administration degree from Ohio Northern University and a master’s of public administration from American University. He had 23 years experience in federal contracting, 3 with the Navy and 20 with NIH.

“Carl was a wonderful person and truly committed to helping others—at work and in his community,” said Diane Frasier, director, OALM. “His contributions to the acquisition community were innumerable. It’s very clear that Carl didn’t just touch the lives of the people he worked with directly; he had a very long reach—just about anyone Carl met, either through work or in the community, had a very positive experience. Carl’s loss will really be felt among his colleagues, friends and, of course, his family.”

Henn received the NIH Director’s Award, NIH Award of Merit, HHS Exemplary Service Award, numerous performance awards, quality step increases and suggestion awards.

“Carl served as NIH Bicycle Commuter Club president, club cheerleader, club supporter and club conscience for many years,” said Angela Atwood-Moore, former NIHBCC president. “If you ever met Carl, you probably never met a nicer guy, and your life was certainly enriched for having known him.”

Henn was also an active member of the OD’s green committee, according to LaVerne Stringfield, OD executive officer.

In comments to the Washington Post, Rockville Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio described Henn as “one of the kindest, gentlest, warmest individuals” and credited him with starting Rockville’s community garden program.

Henn lived in Rockville for more than 20 years. He was president of his local civic association, ran for Rockville city council three times and was known as an advocate for eco-friendly sustainable living and for increasing locally based community life.

Henn is survived by his wife, Carol, and daughters, Jessica and Allison.

A memorial service was held July 31 in Rockville; a contingent of bike enthusiasts cycled to the event from NIH. The family requests that memorials take the form of donations to either Bikes for the World ( or the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (

NIAAA Welcomes Two to Advisory Council
NIAAA acting director Dr. Kenneth Warren welcomes new council member Dr. Gyongyi Szabo.
NIAAA acting director Dr. Kenneth Warren welcomes new council member Dr. Gyongyi Szabo.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism welcomed two new members to its National Advisory Council on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism at its 124th meeting in June.

Dr. Gyongyi Szabo is professor of medicine and associate dean for clinical and translational research and also serves as director of the Hepatology and Liver Center at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. She is an internationally recognized leader in the field of alcohol and hepatology research and has served as a member of the extramural advisory board of NIAAA and the Liver Action Plan and the National Commission for Digestive Diseases for NIDDK.

Dr. Kathleen Grant is a professor of behavioral neurosciences at the Oregon Health Science University. She has extensive experience in the fields of behavioral pharmacology of alcohol, basic science research of addictive behaviors, gender differences in alcoholism risk and genetic and epigenetic assessment of genetically engineered animals.

back to top of page