by Buck Institute

Founding Board Member and Renowned Gerontologist Dr. John W. Rowe Returns to the Buck Board of Trustees

Dr. John (Jack) W. Rowe got involved with the Buck Institute in 1985 when it was still a glimmer in the eyes of those contemplating major projects that would share 20% of the annual income from the Buck Trust.  He was a founding Trustee and led our first Scientific Advisory Council when the Buck opened its doors in 1999.   Twenty-one years later the renowned gerontologist and public health expert has returned to serve again as a Buck Trustee.

“I’ve had a big investment in the Buck academically and professionally,” says Rowe, who is now a Professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, after retiring as Chairman and CEO of Aetna, Inc. “I’ve always followed developments at the Buck closely and am thrilled to be back on the Board,” adding with a chuckle, “and I’m happy to know that some of the people there actually remember me.”

In 1985, Rowe assembled a panel of experts to consider the creation of the Buck Institute and later testified as an expert witness at the trial which led to its creation. At that time he was the founding Director of the Division on Aging at Harvard Medical School. “In 1985 there was increasing awareness of the demographic transformation in this country, but most of the efforts focused on services for older people.  The National Institute on Aging had been founded, but it was just beginning to find its way,” he says.  “We saw the opportunity to send a signal, to establish a freestanding, independent, very high quality research center that was interdisciplinary and included a variety of different kinds of scholars working together, but at the same time, focused on issues solely related to aging.  We saw this as the first such institute in the United States, and that it would be a model for the kinds of research that could be done and for the kinds of people who could be trained.”

Rowe was also instrumental in engaging internationally-renowned architect I.M. Pei to design the Buck campus. He worked closely with Pei and his son during Rowe’s tenure as President of the Mount Sinai Medical School when Pei designed the Medical Center’s Guggenheim Pavilion in New York City.  “When the opportunity was presented to design the facility here, I called I.M. and asked ‘How would you like to help us?’  He was a little reluctant, but we had a long relationship.  He sent one of his partners out to look at the site. Once they saw the hills on one side, the upper reaches of the Bay on the other, with its beautiful vistas, they became very enthusiastic.”

Rowe, who also has an appointment at the Stanford University School of Medicine, visited the Buck over the years and gave an occasional talk to the staff and public.  Gifts from him totaling more than $1.5 million helped promote our science, which he describes as extremely strong.   “One of the Buck’s strengths is that it continues to be focused on the basic biology. We need that.  As far as what is happening in the laboratories, the faculty are right on target.”  He also cites the strong leadership and scientific acumen of Buck President and CEO Eric Verdin, MD, as one of the motivating factors behind his decision to come back on the board.  “Eric has put together a great team and I’m excited about the Buck’s recent negotiations with the city of Novato which will make it easier for us to develop the remainder of the campus. There are bright days ahead.”

“Having Jack rejoin our Board is one of the high points of my tenure here at the Buck,” says Verdin. “His depth of appreciation for what we do, his expertise in business and healthcare, and his history with the Buck elevates all of us. Jack was instrumental in getting us started and he will be instrumental in helping us make good on our mission to help people live better longer.  I am delighted to have him as an ally and advisor.”

Rowe has published more than 200 scientific papers, mostly in the field of gerontology.  He co-wrote a book on Successful Aging. He also chaired the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Successful Aging.  Rowe, who is now focusing much of his attention on public health and the impact of where one lives on the aging process, says he hopes to be helpful on the Board by providing context for our research. “The field of geroscience is gaining so much traction among those focused on the health and well-being of older adults.  It’s the perfect time to bring a focus on healthspan to the larger effort and to help the Board understand the role that the Buck can play in making that happen.”

Science is showing that while chronological aging is inevitable, biological aging is malleable. There's a part of it that you can fight, and we are getting closer and closer to winning that fight.

Eric Verdin, MD, Buck Institute President and CEO

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