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Sociology trailblazer Matilda Riley bids adieu to NIH to continue her career in Maine

June 27, 2000

NIA Press Office | 301-496-1752 | nianews3@mail.nih.gov

Sociologist Matilda White Riley, D.Sc., NIH Scientist Emeritus and founder of the National Institute on Aging's Behavioral and Social Research Program, is returning to her home in Maine. Dr. 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. Dr. Riley served as Associate Director of NIA for Behavioral and Social Research from 1979-1991 and Senior Social Scientist at NIA from 1991-1997. She was honored in 1998 with the title of Scientist Emeritus at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

"My intellectual and emotional ties to NIA remain powerful," Dr. Riley said, tearfully. "Though geographically separated, I shall always stand ready to pitch in."

Brunswick, Maine, 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 1970s 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.'

The recipient of numerous awards and honorary degrees, Dr.Riley is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a senior member of the Institute of Medicine, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She also served as president of the American Sociological Association and, with her husband, as co-president of the District of Columbia Sociological Society. In addition to several hundred articles and contributions to varied publications, books authored by her include Sociological Research ; Aging and Society ; Aging from Birth to Death ; Sociological Traditions from Generation to Generation ; Aging in Society ; The Oldest Old ; Perspectives in Behavioral Medicine: The Aging Dimension ; Social Change and the Life Course ; Social Structures and Human Lives ; Sociological Lives ; AIDS in an Aging Society ; The Quality of Aging: Strategies for Interventions (co-edited with husband John W. Riley, Jr.) and Age and Structural Lag .

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