Aging paragons

April 29th, 2009 by Dr. Merzenich

We all know a few older-aged paragons, individuals who are still storming through life in their 9th or 10th or 11th decade. I was delighted to read two articles in the New York Times last week that featured two such individuals who have crossed my own path in life. David Perlman is a 90-year-old science writer for the San Francisco Chronicle who is refusing to take a buyout offer from his struggling employer. I know from meeting with him in the past that he’s an all-business, no-nonsense, straightforward, well-informed PROFESSIONAL, in every sense of the word. Why SHOULD he quit, when he gets so much enjoyment about his work? In any event, as he joked in the Times article, he’d “..bankrupt the paper.” if he took a buyout package based on the number of years of employment — in his case toting up to 78 years! Keep it up, David! Good science writing is getting to be a scarce commodity in most community newspapers. The public needs you, pal!

The second paragon, Dr. Rita Levi-Montalcini, is just entering the 11th decade of life, still going strong. A heroine in her native Italia (a Nobel laureate, a great scientific contributor, and an active participant in the Italian political scene), Dr. Levi-Montalcini took on the task of establishing a great neuroscience research institute (the European Brain Research Institute) in Rome at age of 95! We neuroscientists all know that Dr. Levi-Montalcini is still an important voice for us. Increasingly, she is an important voice for her country-persons. What a gift, to be in her position as a strong positive force for science, her country and the wider world, on the occasion of her 100th birthday!

What characteristics do these older-aged paragons share? Both have found great pleasure in their life and their work. Both have developed and sustained (to them) very important “missions” that have helped them maintain a high-energy approach to life. Both continue to engage their brains to the fullest, in work that is continuously challenging, every single day. Both are physically vigorous and resilient. Both continue to educate themselves about what’s happening in the world. As a consequence, both are notably important sources of wisdom for their colleagues, and for us. Still GROWING, beyond 90 and 100!

May we all be half so lucky, at their age!