2015-04-16

Richard Suzman, Director of NIA's Division of Behavioral and Social Research, passes away at age 72

We are saddened to share a note from National Institute on Aging Director Richard Hodes:

Dear NIA colleagues,

It is with a heavy heart that I inform you that Dr. Richard Suzman, director of NIA's Division of Behavioral and Social Research, passed away last night. He was 72. As some of you may know, Richard had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Richard was one of the most creative and innovative scientists I know, who with an unrivaled energy and determination helped transform the behavioral and social sciences.  He modernized the science of demography and developed new fields, including the bio-demography of aging. In his 30 years of distinguished federal service, Richard brought us several new transdisciplinary fields of study, including neuro-economics, social neuroscience, and behavioral genetics. His career changed our understanding of longevity and aging, integrating economic and social behavior with biological and clinical aspects of advancing age.

At NIH, his vision contributed to important trans-NIH initiatives. The Common Fund’s interest in the Science of Behavior Change and Health Economics are already making a difference, through studies of new ways to intervene in health behaviors, including tobacco use, diabetes management, and the dissemination of and adherence to medical regimens. His understanding of how economics can affect health and aging has already changed trajectories for participation in pension savings in the U.S., for the benefit of today’s older Americans and generations to come.

Perhaps his key achievement is the U.S. Health and Retirement Study, which has grown to encompass a group of connected international surveys that cover more than half the world’s population. These related surveys allow researchers to compare data on aging cross-nationally, demonstrating how both common and unique biological, cultural, institutional, and policy features can impact health and well-being with age. The loss of Richard will not only be felt here, but internationally.

Richard was a tireless advocate for the best in science and for the health of older people and their families. In the coming weeks and months, we will be talking a lot about Richard Suzman, both the scientist and the irascible character, whom we will remember with admiration and affection. At a personal level, Richard was for me a constant example of what can be accomplished through vision, energy, and intellect.  If I was ever tempted to lapse into complacency, Richard made it clear that this would not be tolerated.  I will follow up with you all soon, as we plan and join tributes and remembrances for our colleague and friend.

Sincerely,
Richard Hodes,
Director, National Institute on Aging