Leader through the ages

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Elizabeth Newman, McKnight's Senior Editor
Elizabeth Newman, McKnight's Senior Editor

In addition to Bill McKnight, the long-term care industry lost another luminary this month when the Rev. Howard Washburn died.

I had the privilege of interviewing Rev. Washburn at the LeadingAge show last October, where he was being honored for founding what was then the Association of Homes for the Aging. Although his body was failing him — he said his No. 1 piece of advice to seniors was “don't fall” — he was still sharp as a tack. We covered his days from a boyhood in New Jersey to service in World War II to life in long-term care.

While his accomplishments were many, what impressed me most about him was his desire to continue to keep working, and giving back. When asked what his next goal was, he said, “I'd like to live a little longer, and I hope to continue and contribute to the field of aging.”

While religion and a calling to long-term care was clearly a deep motivator for Rev. Washburn, I believe he also wanted to keep contributing because it was so much a part of who he was. He wanted to work. He also had seen, first-hand, how the twin devils of loneliness and boredom could lead to senior depression. 

We can learn a lot from the reverend's life, and his passion for making seniors' lives better through resident-centered care. But there's also a lesson to be had in what it means to be able to contribute. It's easy to fall into the trap of dreaming about our own retirement, or thinking that future quiet days spent visiting with family and friends will be enough. It's also easy to believe that at a certain age, a person's contribution to society or a business has been completed.

But whether it's P.D. James writing her latest novel, “Death to Pemberly,” at age 91 (it's a must for Austenophiles), or Rev. Washburn continuing to consult at Otterbein Homes through last year, we should remember that people need their lives to be intellectually stimulating in a way that is meaningful for them. Whether that's being involved in a business, writing or creating art, it's a worthwhile challenge to create these opportunities for seniors. 

Call it good advice from a founding father.


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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.