One Man’s Powerful Longevity Lesson

One Man’s Powerful Longevity Lesson

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Last week, as several well known and powerful people experienced dramatic downfalls, there was important news of an inspiring kind that didn’t get the same widespread attention. A visionary scientist and humanist – and someone who is both the embodiment and harbinger of the longevity revolution we’re experiencing in this country – celebrated the last of his many 100th-year birthday celebrations
No, Dr. Howard W. Jones, Jr., didn’t get worldwide attention; it’s doubtful his name was even mentioned outside certain circles. But consider this: He’s 35 years past the mandatory retirement age at Johns Hopkins. When he left there in 1979, he and wife became chairs of the obstetrics and gynecology department at the newly formed Eastern Virginia Medical School; together, the couple helped to create the first test tube baby born in the United States. At a celebration recently in New York City, the chairman of the Jones Institute for Reproductive Medicine, Howard P. Milstein, introduced the doctor, quoting from the great Tennyson poem, Ulysses, to evoke our era’s   new demographic realities: “Old age has yet his honor and his toil … some work of noble note may yet be done, not unbecoming men that strove with the Gods … Come, my friends, ‘tis not too late to seek a newer world…”  

Dr. Jones and his fellow scientists at the institute have used medical advances to bring hope and happiness to thousands of families. But Dr. Jones has also been a pioneer in rethinking and reconstructing an earlier century’s notion of work and retirement. Marc Freedman of Civic Ventures, with his notion of “encore careers,” and Dr. Ken Dychtwald of AgeWave have both written about the essential transformation of working life to account for the longevity benefit, while Europe’s 2012 Year of “Active and Healthy Aging” is about nothing less than the social, economic and personal changes required for our century.

Not all of us will live to be 100, of course, as Dr. Jones has. Yet the data is clear: Many of us will be working longer. According to a recent survey on work and retirement, “40 percent of respondents now expect to work longer and retire at an older age since the recession began. [All told], 39 percent of American workers plan to retire after age 70 or not at all, and over half plan to work in retirement.”

In an age when a great deal of news is built on the fortunes and failures of personalities, we’d be wise to consider that the inspiring example of Dr. Howard Jones will endure – and have a continuing instructive impact on 21st century life. 

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Executive director of the Global Coalition on Aging, Michael W. Hodin, Ph.D., is also managing partner at High Lantern Group and a fellow at Oxford University's Harris Manchester College.