Wilma Thompson Donahue

Wilma Thompson Donahue, internationally known authority on aging and director emeritus of the Institute of Gerontology, died at her home here Aug. 17 after a long illness. She was 92.

Donahue began her career at the U-M in 1935 as one of the country’s first clinical psychologists, practicing at the Student Health Service mental hygiene clinic. She became an instructor in the Department of Psychology in 1938, was the founding director of the University’s Division of Gerontology in 1951, and later became the first director of the Institute of Gerontology in 1966.

When she retired from the U-M in 1970, the Board of Regents said that “her work was facilitated by her many public offices and by her roles in professional groups, but her ultimate mission was neither political nor, in the narrow sense, professional. It was educational. She sought to elicit the truth about old people, especially those distressed in mind, body, or estate, and to convince the public of that truth. Considering that her career in the specialty of gerontology spanned only a little more than 20 years, she enjoyed an astounding success.”

Donahue served as director of the International Center for Social Gerontology in Washington, D.C. in 1973–83, took part in the White House Conference on Aging in 1961, 1971 and 1981, and was appointed to various national policy boards on aging by Presidents Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Carter.

She also served on several state commissions on aging, was founder and first president of the Michigan Society of Gerontology, and past president of the Center for Social Gerontology in Ann Arbor. She was among the first group of inductees into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 1983.

Donahue received three degrees in psychology from the U-M, a bachelor’s in 1926, a master’s in 1927 and a doctorate in 1937.

She was born Dec. 4, 1900, in Mitchellville, Iowa. Her husband, Lester, preceded her in death in 1963.

Contributions in her memory may be made to the Center for Social Gerontology, 2307 Shelby Ave., Ann Arbor, MI 48103. A memorial service will be held at the U-M this month.


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