Maggie Kuhn, 89, the charismatic Gray Panthers founder who spearheaded a movement to improve the lives of older Americans and change attitudes about aging, died of cardiopulmonary arrest April 22 at her home in Philadelphia.
Ms. Kuhn, who was to be honored by the White House Conference on Aging next month, was one of five women who began the Gray Panthers 25 years ago. The group set its sights on social reform, adopted the slogan "Age and Youth in Action" and attracted college students among its first volunteers. It quickly was embroiled in protest against the Vietnam War, and it soon focused on a variety of issues that included consumer rights, sexism, racial injustice and age discrimination.
The Gray Panthers initiated legislation for nursing home reform and experiments in shared housing, and the group lobbied successfully for raising the age limit on mandatory retirement. The group allied itself with other organizations on issues that often are intergenerational. The Gray Panthers grew to 100,000 members in 32 states and a half-dozen countries. Ms. Kuhn became internationally known. By 1978, she was listed by the World Almanac as one of the 25 most influential women in the United States.
Ms. Kuhn, a deceptively frail-looking woman with white hair, said she and her Gray Panthers co-founders had been insulted by being forced to retire at age 65. A former magazine editor, she had worked for more than 40 years and was being forced out as a program administrator with the social education and action department of the United Presbyterian Church.
"We didn't feel old," she wrote in her 1991 autobiography, "No Stone Unturned: The Life and Times of Maggie Kuhn."
"In fact, we felt more radical and full of new ideas, more opinionated and less constrained than we were when we graduated from college. We knew our lives had reached a sort of climax, not an ending. Yet we felt disturbed that we had few role models."
In 1970, many gerontologists viewed separation for older people -- from work, families and communities -- as normal. Not much was written in the popular press about people older than 65 having fun or full and meaningful lives. Although she knew she faced mandatory retirement, Ms. Kuhn recalled that she had felt "suddenly shocked and wounded, then angry, at having to be sent out to pasture. Then I figured there must be thousands of old people like me, so I decided it was time to fight back."
The women began as the Consultation of Older and Younger Adults for Social Change, but they soon came to be known as Gray Panthers, a spin on the name of a militant civil rights group of the era, the Black Panthers.
Using U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War as an organizing issue "identified us with the young," said Ms. Kuhn, who shared her big stone house in Philadelphia's Germantown neighborhood with young people. She encouraged the creation of group homes integrated by age and started the Shared Housing Resources Center.
"It is very good for others to know how the old feel about life and good for the old to keep up with the young ideas," she said. The world unfairly portrays the old as weak, she said.
"The first myth is that old age is a disease, a terrible disease that you never admit you've got, so you lie about your age," Ms. Kuhn said. "Well, it's not a disease -- it's a triumph. Because you've survived. Failure, disappointment, sickness, loss -- you're still here."
Ms. Kuhn stood up to corporate officials, remonstrated President Gerald R. Ford for calling her "young lady" and chided talk show host Johnny Carson on national television about his "Aunt Blabby" skit poking fun at the elderly. But she said she believed in lobbying for the rights of all, not just her own age group.
"We're the elders of the tribe," she said. "We are concerned about the tribe surviving. We are advocates" who care for community members of all ages. Older Americans, she said, "are most free to transcend special interests and seek public interests."
Margaret Kuhn was born in Buffalo, and she grew up in Cleveland, Memphis and Louisville. She was a graduate of the College for Women in Cleveland. She began championing working women in the 1920s while working for the YWCA. The "Y" was "an extraordinary alliance between upper- and lower-class woman," she said, "part noblesse oblige and part compassion." The organization sent her to Columbia University to learn about social reform and to Philadelphia to talk to women in factories, department stores, offices and schools.
She worked with the United Service Organization during World War II to help female defense plant employees. After joining the national office of the Presbyterian Church, she became involved in the desegregation movement of the 1940s, affordable housing and national health care in the 1950s and peace and antipoverty efforts in the 1960s.
Ms. Kuhn, who functioned as convener, or chairwoman, of the Gray Panthers, traveled 100,000 miles a year to meet with groups, wrote a column for the Philadelphia Bulletin and was the author of books on aging, fighting for social justice and her own life. She was the subject of two documentary films: "Aging in America" and "Maggie Kuhn: Wrinkled Radical."
Her autobiography included descriptions of her sexual and romantic encounters, from college days through her last decade. Ms. Kuhn, who never married, said she was lucky to have had "so many wonderful affairs," including a 15-year relationship with a married minister and a liaison with a man 50 years her junior. To deny sexuality in old age "is to deny life itself," she said. Her recipe for staying alert, she said, was to "try to do at least one outrageous thing a day."
In her last years, she survived bouts with cancer and two random street muggings in Philadelphia that resulted in a broken shoulder and arm. She also suffered from severe arthritis, osteoporosis and a degenerative eye ailment.
Despite its movement onto college campuses and into issues affecting all ages, the Gray Panthers declined in membership to about 50,000, in part because of the growth of another powerful lobbying group, the American Association for Retired Persons. Ms. Kuhn said that was an indication that a new, more self-centered and conservative generation of older people was coming up behind her.
She leaves no immediate survivors. C. NICHOLAS BeLER Restaurant Owner
C. Nicholas BeLer, 63, co-founder and co-owner of the Prime Rib restaurants in Washington and Baltimore, died of cancer April 21 at his home in Washington.
He and his brother, C. Peter BeLer, opened the Baltimore Prime Rib in 1965 and the Washington restaurant in 1976. The Prime Rib, on Washington's K Street NW, brought Mr. BeLer the Washingtonian magazine's 1991 "Restaurateur of the Year" award and a favorable review only last week from The Washington Post Magazine.
Post critic Phyllis C. Richman wrote that over the years, her heart had been won over by the restaurant's "gilt trim, the little silk-shaded table lamps and the pianist playing even at lunch."
She also wrote, "After 19 years doing pretty much the same thing (The menu is a matter of attrition,' says owner Nick BeLer), the Prime Rib's plain cooking looks good."
Richman added that the steakhouse had changed in only some ways over the years. "There is a woman among the servers these days and more fish is on the menu. But some things are unwavering. The martinis never did contain any vermouth, and the roast beef and crab have always been simply excellent."
The Washingtonian, in its citation, said the Prime Rib "evoked an early 1940s New York supper club." It concluded that Mr. BeLer won his award for "creating and impeccably maintaining a K Street institution, and for demonstrating that a restaurant can prosper while charging fair prices."
Both Prime Rib restaurants were recipients of Distinguished Restaurants of North America DiRona awards. They also had received top ratings from Zagat guides.
Mr. BeLer, who was born in Baltimore, graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a degree in genetics. He spent a year working for the Food and Drug Administration, then helped his father open the Williamsburg Restaurant in Williamsburg before attending the University of Baltimore law school. He left law school to open his own restaurant.
Survivors include his brother, of Washington. ROBERT K. McCORMAC JR. Picture Editor
Robert K. McCormac Jr., 80, a picture editor who retired in 1978 after 41 years with United Press International and its predecessors, died of arteriosclerosis April 22 at the Arcola Nursing Home in Silver Spring.
Mr. McCormac was a native of Washington and a graduate of Gonzaga College High School. He served in the Army in the Pacific during World War II.
Survivors include his wife, Francis Marshall McCormac of Silver Spring; a daughter, Kathleen FitzGibbon of Columbia; a sister, Elizabeth Gallahorn of Silver Spring; a brother, William T. McCormac of Sarasota, Fla.; and a grandson.