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Alicia Georges: Sigma Pi Phi 50th Boule Conference Health Symposium

Alicia Georges
AARP Board of Directors
Sigma Pi Phi 50th Boule Conference
Health Symposium
Bellagio Hotel & Convention Center
Las Vegas, NV
June 23, 2010

Thank you, Dr. Carr, for the kind introduction. I am so pleased to be here today – it is such a momentous time in healthcare history. There is much to talk about as we all navigate a new healthcare landscape during the next several years. Forums like this one – where we can reflect and share – are invaluable for keeping the spotlight on health.

What I’d like to do today is introduce you to AARP. I suspect you know that AARP has been deeply engaged in the healthcare conversation. In fact, healthcare has been an AARP priority from the beginning.

You could even say that the issue is built into the organizational DNA.

It all began with AARP’s founder, Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus. No discussion of AARP – its character, its pedigree, its core – goes very far without a tip of the hat to Dr. Andrus.

Briefly, Dr. Andrus was born in San Francisco in 1884 – the same year the Washington Monument was completed, and the same year Mark Twain wrote The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

The work we associate with Dr. Andrus – staunch advocacy on behalf of older people – came only after she retired after 28 years as principal at Abraham Lincoln High School in California, capping 41 years in education. Advocacy was like her second career.

In 1944, when her mother became ill, Dr. Andrus retired to care for her. That same year, she volunteered with the California Retired Teachers Association and learned first-hand about the challenges facing older people in the state and the nation.

It was during this time that she went to visit a former Lincoln High School teacher. The address was for a handsome estate, yet no one lived there by the name she was looking for.

Someone suggested that she must be looking for ‘the old woman out back.’ Behind the stately home was a renovated chicken coop. There, to her distress, she found the retired teacher, unable to afford better housing on her meager income.

These events led to Dr. Andrus’s next great crusade, which ultimately resulted in AARP. She believed older people could achieve a greater sense of value through service to others. She believed older people could have dignity, respect and purpose. She believed that the care and means for older people to exist comfortably through retirement could become a reality.

In 1947, Dr. Andrus brought the various state retired teacher organizations under a national umbrella – the National Retired Teachers Association, which became a vehicle to help address the plight of retired teachers – mostly with modest incomes but no health insurance.

Health insurance for people over 60 was such a radical idea that no insurance company wanted to talk to Dr. Andrus. But eventually, one company saw her vision and took the risk. The result was group health insurance for retired teachers, a first.

Shortly thereafter, in 1958, Dr. Andrus founded the American Association of Retired Persons – AARP – and, at age 73, became its first president.

Since its founding, AARP’s activities have always reflected the motto of Dr. Andrus: “To serve, not to be served.” Most people know AARP as a leading advocate for people over 50. AARP’s mission, though, is to enhance the quality of life for all as we age, leading social change and delivering value to members through information, advocacy and service.

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