A tribute to a visionary leader

The world lost a pioneer in social gerontology when Bob Atchley, professor emeritus of sociology and anthropology and former director of Miami University’s Scripps Gerontology Center, passed away this past November. Colleagues and former students around the country will miss him, and will always remember him for his impact on the field of social gerontology in general and at Miami University in particular.

Bob's legacy is deeply appreciated by his associates here at Miami, some of whom had the privilege of learning from him and working with him. As those of us who knew him shared our memories, there was unanimous praise for Bob’s vision as a scholar and a leader. He was among the first generation of academics to articulate the impacts of aging for society, and he was a national leader in making the case for gerontology as a field of study.

As a manifestation of that vision, Bob wrote one of the first and most influential textbooks in the field. "Bob’s Social Forces and Aging, first published in 1972, was a contribution that introduced so many to social gerontology at an important time in the development of the discipline," said Pam Mayberry, Director of Academic Program Support. Bob Applebaum, Professor of Gerontology, remarked that "Bob Atchley was writing a textbook before most universities had heard of gerontology." Jane Straker, Director of Research at Scripps, noted that his "contributions to the study of retirement and his work on continuity theory changed the way we think about aging and the later stages of life."

Along with colleagues Millie Seltzer and Doc Cottrell, Bob put gerontology at Miami University on the map. "The national renown of Miami University’s educational programs in gerontology and the strong research profile of the Scripps Gerontology Center were built on Bob Atchley's vision and leadership," said Suzanne Kunkel, University Distinguished Professor of Gerontology and Executive Director of the Scripps Gerontology Center.

When Bob retired from Miami University, he continued his academic leadership in gerontology as chair of gerontology at Naropa University for seven years. He had a rich and full life in retirement, continuing to pursue lifelong interests in spirituality, positive aging, service, and music.

Our hearts go out to Bob’s family (especially Sheila, his wife, and his children, Chris Atchley, Melissa Atchley, and Chris Miller) and to his many circles of friends. He will be missed and gratefully remembered by several generations of students and colleagues at Miami and far beyond.

If you want to share a memory of Bob as a teacher, friend, mentor, or colleague, please write to us at There will be a special tribute to Bob at our 100th anniversary event in 2022.