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Federal Council on the Aging Remarks at the Swearing-In Ceremony for Five Members.

December 10, 1979

THE PRESIDENT. This is a very good day for our country and a very exciting time for me, and I know it is for all those assembled around behind me. We have an opportunity with the White House Conference on the Aging, scheduled for 1981, to have another exhilarating and challenging presentation to make to our Nation for one of the most important issues of our time.

In the last 20 years, there have been two previous White House Conferences on the Aging, and both of them have, in effect, transformed the thinking of Americans about those among us who have reached an age, potentially, of retirement, but who have so much to offer to our country in a rapidly increasing fashion. We have this afternoon, also, an opportunity to address the Federal Council on the Aging by swearing in five new members to that very important body.

In the last 3 years, we have made a good bit of progress in issues dealing with the aging. We've passed legislation, finally, to prohibit discrimination among Americans because of age. We've had a chance to strengthen the Older Americans Act. We've had an opportunity to expand the SSI, primarily for elderly people. And, in addition, we have strengthened and made much more secure social security, which is the basis for our social programs for those who've reached the retirement age.

It's very important that we recognize the need for elderly people to have a maximum opportunity for self-determination. Their lives have become ever more valuable with the passing years, because they've accumulated experience. After retirement, or at the age of retirement, they have, sometimes, time to contribute to their country. They have vivid insight into the problems and challenges of our time. They have a broad perspective, in having seen crises come and go. They are completely conversant with the elements that comprise American society. They have confidence in our country, because they've seen us meet similar challenges in the past.

Many elements of American societal life can be harnessed to provide a partnership with the aging people of our country. In academic circles, in business and labor, local, State, and Federal agencies of government, in community programs, in churches and other benevolent institutions, there is an opportunity for free interchange of advice and counsel, communication and common work, to realize the hopes and dreams of many Americans, regardless of age.

I would like at this time to recognize those who will be leading the White House Conference on the Aging, to be conducted next year. The Chairman is Sadie Alexander, immediately behind me, who will be saying a few words in a moment. She's a famous person on her own. She's been part of the progress made in our country in the finest possible way. She happens to be the first black woman ever awarded an earned Ph.D. in this country, in economics, and she later achieved her doctor of laws degree from the University of Pennsylvania.

Their Executive Director will be a very well known person in Washington, former Congressman from California, Jerry Waldie. Our Deputy Chairman is a man who conducted the last White House Conference on the Aging, who's been in the forefront of eliminating discrimination of all kinds in our country and been a constant prod for the conscience of America, Dr. Arthur Fiemining. The Cochairmen and Chairwomen of this group will be Dr. Neugarten, Miss Morales, and Miss Winston.

And this is a wonderful group who will lead the planning and help to conduct the White House Conference on the Aging. My wife and I and other members of my immediate family and my entire administration will be supportive of this very fine effort.

And now I would like to call on our new Chairperson, Dr. Alexander, to say a few words.

DR. ALEXANDER. Mr. President, Mrs. Carter, Madame Secretary, members of the commission, and distinguished guests:

As a child I lived some years in Washington, and I remember that my mother used to frequently take us to chapel at Howard University, 4 o'clock on Sunday afternoon. On one of these occasions, Booker T. Washington was to speak. And I heard my mother and her lady friends discussing what they would wear to the reception for Mr. Carter—Mr. Washington. [Laughter] Yes, that's on my mind; we're going to give him a great one, too.

When we got to the chapel and Mr. Washington was introduced, he of course thanked the persons who were responsible for his invitation, and then he stated how he regretted that he couldn't possibly remain for the reception. He was to meet with some very important people, upon whose decision would rest whether or not Tuskegee would continue. He said, "You know, perhaps it's fortunate I cannot spend the night in Washington. I find that people who come here for appointments-seem impossible for them to leave. They never seem to realize that they were appointed by one administration." [Laughter] But he said, "I'm afraid that if I inhale the air of Washington for a whole evening, I, too, might not be able to leave." Well, I want to assure you that I will be able to leave. [Laughter]

I have not come back too often, because I was too busy in Philadelphia. Last June, I told the members of my firm that I was going to leave by December 31 of this year. Nobody believed me. But then I went ahead quietly to get my work out of the way. I only have two important cases left, and I intend to get them off the docket. But I thought to myself that the French expression, that important ventures cast their shadows, was certainly true in my case.

I wondered, after I had made the decision to leave the practice of law, which I'd been in for 52 years, that I might not be as happy as I thought I would be. And along came this unexpected call from Madame Secretary. And what did she tell me? She had an appointment with the President, and she was going to present to him my name to chair this very important commission.

I am grateful to the President. I am grateful to Madame Secretary. I am grateful to the committee and to all of you who I know. The commission will receive your support. I thank you.

THE PRESIDENT. Pat Harris told me I was getting a senior citizen to head up our Conference. I didn't know I was getting somebody so young. [Laughter] Dr. Alexander is the same age as my mother. They were both born in 1898. And I think the vivacious attitude that she has, and the full life that she lives, and the tremendous contribution that she will undoubtedly make in the future, is indicative of the need for all of us in this country never to consider any person, regardless of age, other than a tremendous potential asset for our country.

I know that my mother is as young as I am, or as she was 35 or 40 years ago or 50 years ago. And many people who are not as well known as Lillian Carter or Dr. Alexander have the same ability to contribute on a continuing basis to a better life for all Americans. There is no doubt in my mind that under her leadership, the White House Conference on the Aging will be not only successful and beneficial to others, but it will be exciting and enjoyable and stimulating and inspirational as well. And I'm deeply grateful to Dr. Alexander for being willing to serve in this capacity.

We have with us also, in addition to those who will run the White House Conference, the members who will serve with Nelson Cruikshank, the Chairman, who's also my Presidential Counselor on the Aging. And these members are Dr. Jean Perdue, of Florida, Miss Mary Mulvey, of Rhode Island—right? I think I've got the States right, I'm not sure. Mr. Cy Carpenter, of Minnesota. Everytime I swear in a group, I always have at least one person from Minnesota— [laughter] -a lot more than from Georgia. I never have figured that out. [Laughter] And Dr. Aaron Henry, who's almost from Georgia; he's from Mississippi and an old friend of mine. And John Martin, who will be reappointed.

I might say that this group will now be sworn in by Secretary Pat Harris. I would like to say a word before I depart this meeting, though, and that is that Nelson Cruikshank not only serves as the Chairman of the Federal Council on the Aging, but he serves as my personal Counselor on the Aging. This is a group that not only gives advice to the President but also to the Nation at large, to all the agencies of the Federal and other governments, and, in addition, to the Congress. It's a constant stimulation to us all, and it's the only advisory council in the Government that's predominantly made up of the aging, who have a particular knowledge and insight and ability to deal with this exciting possibility for us to improve life in the future.

As you know, over a period of years ahead, a larger and larger portion of American citizens will have reached the retirement age. They not only provide a great responsibility for us to ensure that they have an adequate life, those particularly who are poor and who need the direct and daily help in their lives from the Government, but they also provide a tremendous resource, a reservoir of talent and ability and inspiration and dedication that can help the rest of us enjoy a better life, even before the retirement age.

So, I'm very grateful to Nelson Cruikshank and this group, who will now be sworn in. And I'd like to thank all of those who are present here for their willingness to serve along with me in making us have a better nation for the aging. And I'd like now to call on the Secretary, Pat Harris, who will administer the oath of office. All of you have my congratulations and my thanks.

And now, Secretary Harris.

SECRETARY HARRIS. Thank you, sir.

THE PRESIDENT. Good luck to you, Pat. Thank you very much. Thank you, everybody.

[At this point, the President left the Cabinet Room, and Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare Patricia R. Harris administered the oath of office to the five members of the Council.]

SECRETARY HARRIS. Congratulations to you. The five people I've just sworn in are taking up their responsibilities at a critical time in the development of Federal policy for the aging. That point was reemphasized for me in a recent book entitled "The View in Winter." A key element in this book is the recognition that for the first time in our history old age has come to be the expected, not the exceptional, condition.

Happily, all of us in this room can reasonably expect to live what used to be called a ripe old age; some of us, of course, sooner than later. That fact is a triumph of our health and social service systems, but it also has fundamental implications for future policy. Today, 11 percent of our population is age 65 or older; by the year 2020, which isn't very far away, older people will make up almost 16 percent of our population. That's about one in every seven people.

We cannot continue a public policy that views old age as the exception rather than the rule. Public policy toward older Americans must focus on helping them maintain their economic, physical, and social independence. That will not be an easy task, but it is one that we must accomplish.

What is needed is a national policy that emphasizes the strengths, rather than the weakness or problems of older Americans. As members of the Federal Council on Aging, the five people I have just sworn in will play an important part in shaping that policy. Each brings a special expertise to the deliberations of the Council.

Mary Mulvey has broad experience in education and research. Jean Perdue has spent years providing health care to the elderly. Cy Carpenter has firsthand experience with the employment problems of older Americans. Aaron Henry understands the problems of aging blacks, particularly those in rural areas. And John Martin, who is back for a second term on the Council, brings with him the practical experience of administering Federal programs for the aging.

But perhaps the most difficult task has been left to the leadership of the 1981 White House Conference on Aging-difficult because they have such a short time within which to reach their objectives.

Let me briefly outline the concerns of older Americans that this conference must address: the need for improved economic well-being, the need for suitable housing at a reasonable price, the need for comprehensive quality health care that is readily accessible to the aging, the need for a more comprehensive system for delivering social services, the need for a Federal policy on long-term care, the need for greater employment opportunities for those who want or need to work, the need for a national policy on retirement, the need for a national policy encouraging biomedical research into the aging process, and the need for a national policy to overcome stereotypes on aging.

Were I not so well acquainted with the leadership of this conference, I would wonder if the job could be done. But, I know it will be. I know of no one who is more qualified by experience, training, and character to undertake this massive task than Dr. Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander.

The President has already told you the highlights of Sadie Alexander's career. She has made a career of breaking down stereotypes. Now, I see that one of the conference's specific responsibilities is with the destruction of the stereotype of aging. With Sadie Alexander at the helm of this conference, that particular stereotype doesn't have a chance.

I want to say something. The President was noting that Sadie and his mother were born in the same year. I know a little something about that generation, and I'm beginning to think that those were the truly liberated, movement vanguard women. They had no models, as I had with Sadie Alexander. And there's a member of my family, my mother, who now tells me—Sadie, 'cause she doesn't tell her age—tells me I am now older than she will ever admit to being. [Laughter] But that was the generation that really began the liberation of women. But you will be pleased this time, Sadie-you won't have to do it all by yourself.

You will have the help of some very able people: your chairperson emeritus, your deputy chairpersons, and your staff, headed by Jerry Waldie. Jerry has the special advantage of knowing the workings of government from at least three angles. He served 13 years in the California Assembly, five of them as majority leader. He served 8 years as a Member of Congress from California. And most recently, he has come to know the workings of the Federal bureaucracy through his activities as Chairperson of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission. He is uniquely qualified to reshape government policies at all levels, in order to serve the needs of older Americans better. We're very lucky to have him in this role.

This Nation has no precedents for dealing with the situation that now confronts it. The aging of America is a new phenomenon, and we are only beginning to understand what it really means to be old, the problems and the rewards, the difficulties and the satisfactions. Ronald Blythe summarized it well in his book "The View in Winter." "Old age," he says, "is full of death and full of life; it is a tolerable achievement and it is a disaster; it transcends desire and taunts it; it is long enough and it is far from being long enough."

Our challenge is to develop policies that will enhance the meaning of all our lives, young and old alike. With the leadership announced today, I am confident we will achieve the goal. And for every one of us in this room, that goal is important, because if we are lucky, we will live long enough to benefit from what they do. And certainly, all of us hope that we do, and we wish them well.

Note: The President spoke at 2:30 p.m. in the Cabinet Room at the White House.

Jimmy Carter, Federal Council on the Aging Remarks at the Swearing-In Ceremony for Five Members. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/248098

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