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Pioneer in Aging, Former AARP Executive Director Turns 100

Legacy will carry on through Bernie Nash Internship Program

spinner image Bernie Nash speaks at the 2015 White House Council on Aging
Courtesy 2015 White House Conference on Aging

Bernie Nash has had careers within careers: rear admiral in the U.S. Naval Reserve, parole officer, U.S. government official and activist for the aging. For AARP, Nash might best be known for his six years as executive director.​​​

Widely regarded as a pioneer in the field of aging, Nash served AARP for 32 years, served as a consultant for the White House Conference on Aging three times and helped create the Foster Grandparent Program for the U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity. The program engaged people 55 and older to serve as “grandparents” who would provide emotional support to child victims of abuse and tutor, mentor and care for children with disabilities. His vision, service and countless contributions have helped older adults age with independence, dignity and purpose. ​

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Nash celebrated his 100th birthday over the weekend in Illinois with friends and family. AARP is honoring him with an internship program in his name, designed to build upon his lifelong legacy by identifying and training people who have a passion for public service and empower people to choose how they live as they age. ​

“Bernie personified AARP founder Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus’ mandate, ‘To serve; not be served,’ ” AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins said in a proclamation announcing the internship. “Throughout his career, he worked tirelessly to improve the lives of older people, both by providing services they need and by helping them find purpose and meaning in their lives by serving others.”​​

An early advocate for older adults

​​Nash’s service to older Americans dates back to the 1950s. From 1957 to 1962, he served as the executive secretary to the Minnesota Governor's Council on Aging. He was deputy commissioner of the office on aging for the then-U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare from 1965 to 1969, when he joined AARP.​

​Nash attended the first White House Conference on Aging in 1961, and he opened the conference in 2015. “The future is with us in this room, and we are going to be a strategic part of it. … We can provide opportunities for the seniors who are yet to come: our children, our grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” he told attendees.​​​

spinner image Bernie Nash, former AARP Executive Director, at home on his 100th birthday
Courtesy Nash family

He organized the Foster Grandparent Program in 1965. The program engages people 55 and older to provide emotional support to child victims of abuse, as well as mentor and care for children with disabilities. In addition, he helped form the International Federation on Ageing and served as its president from 1973 until 1975.​

“Having been on welfare as a child during the Depression, I had exposure to social workers. Public service is essential to the quality of life of all people,” Nash said. “I wanted to be part of a system that was concerned about others. From a young person, I was influenced by my family who taught me that regardless of your own resources, you sought to help those that you recognize have need.”

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Lasting impacts at AARP​​

During his years at AARP, Nash served as executive director from 1969 to 1975. After he stepped down from that position, Nash continued to serve AARP in the programs division until 2001.​

“The real blessing for me was getting into AARP to begin with — meeting Ethel Percy Andrus and having her as a mentor,” Nash said.

Of the many milestones he achieved with AARP, Nash said he is most proud of increasing the organization’s membership to allow it to become an effective resource to bring about change by working with government and community partners.

During his tenure, he more than tripled the number of programs offered to members, some of which remain essential pillars of AARP’s services to older adults, including AARP Foundation Tax-AideDriver Safety and the Senior Community Service Employment Program.

“I am proud of enabling branches of the U.S. military to utilize AARP’s retirement planning and employment planning programs,” Nash said. “This helped service men and women plan for their futures when getting out of the military.”

When asked what he credits for reaching 100, Nash said, “I think it would be blowing my own horn too loudly to say I had anything to do with it.

“Obviously, I have been very blessed by God my whole life. I have done my best at leading a relatively healthy lifestyle, but it is hard for me to resist ice cream and a piece of chocolate.”

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