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In Memory of James (Jim) E. Birren
posted 01.21.2016

Renowned scholar and pioneer in aging research and the field of gerontology, James E. (Jim) Birren, died on Friday, January 15, 2016. He was 97.

On Birren's passing, Bob Blancato, ASA Board Chair-Elect, remarked that, "Our field has lost one of the true giants. Jim Birren is recognized as one of the founders of the organized field of gerontology. He was an invaluable counsel to so many and one of the most decent human beings one could ever meet."

Born on April 4, 1918, in Chicago, Birren received his Ph.D. in psychology from Northwestern University, and later joined the U.S. Public Health Service's first gerontology research unit. He went on to found the National Institute of Mental Health's section on aging, served as the founding dean of the University of Southern California Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and was the founding director of the Ethel Percy Andrus Gerontology Center. Dr. Fernando Torres-Gil, Director, Center for Policy Research on Aging at UCLA, spoke highly of Birren saying, “Among the many accolades for Dr. Jim Birren I would give: 'A true gentleman.' He showed me what it meant to be kind, decent and gracious and to him I owe much including my becoming a Trojan at USC Gerontology. Rest in peace, my friend." 

ASA Board Chair Lynn Friss Feinberg commented that, "Jim Birren was a pioneer in gerontology who left a lasting legacy for students in aging throughout the country." Birren's career is marked by his commitment to mentoring students and promoting research. Over 200 students received their Ph.D. in gerontology under Birren's leadership. As a prolific researcher and writer, Birren published numerous articles, books and complilations throughout his career, many of which have had a lasting and profound impact on the field of gerontology and aging research.

Pinchas Cohen, Dean of the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology noted that “Jim Birren’s enormous legacy is reflected not only in the USC Davis School of Gerontology and our graduates but also in gerontology as a whole. From championing quality research to spearheading innovation in gerontology education and outreach, his passion for the study of aging has profoundly affected gerontologists and their work across the world. His impact and ideas will echo throughout our field and our communities for generations to come.”

Birren served as president of the American Society on Aging (then known as the Western Gerontological Society) from 1968 to 1969. In 1984 he was the recipient of the ASA Award, which honors individuals for their outstanding contributions to aging related research, administration or advocacy. And In 2004 he was awarded the ASA Hall of Fame Award in recognition of a lifetime of national advocacy and leadership on behalf of older adults. The entire ASA community was happy to welcome Birren to the ASA annual meeting in 2014, which celebrated the 60th anniversary of the association he was instrumental in developing from its earliest years. 

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