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Rosalie Wolf

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by Paula Mixson

November 2001

(Revisited October 2011)

This report is dedicated to the memory of Rosalie S. Wolf  (1927 - 2001). Rosalie was a member of the NAAPSA committee that developed the 2000 survey and would have produced the final report, but for her death on June 26.  Called the “mother of the elder abuse field” and a “model of quiet competence and boundless hope,” Rosalie never seemed aware of the value she held for others, of her own worth. Yet her passion, integrity, commitment,and productivity were truly remarkable. When one considers the incredible humility and deep compassion that accompanied those traits, her character rises to the level of legend.     

Rosalie was a pioneer in the field of elder/adult protection. For example, in 1980, before many state APS programs were even conceived, much less in their infancy, she led for the Administration on Aging the evaluation of the very first demonstration projects on elder abuse interventions.  In 1985, Toshio Tatara, then Director of Research and Evaluation for the American Public Welfare Association, introduced her to the annual APS conference in Texas. By the next year, she was using the networking opportunity presented by the conference to form the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, of which she was President and Executive Director.  This organization later became a partner in the National Center on Elder Abuse.

She founded the Journal of Elder Abuse and Neglect in 1989, which was and remains the only scholarly publication on elder abuse and neglect in the United States. She went on to form the International Network on the Prevention of Elder Abuse, which she chaired until her death.  She was active with the American Society on Aging and the Gerontological Society of America, tirelessly working to include and expand the role of elder abuse on their agendas.

Another colleague remarked that Rosalie “moved nations into action about elder abuse issues.”  She was a member of the World Health Organization’s Consulting Group for the World Report on Violence and the steering committee of the United Nations Working Group on Trauma. In 2000, she co-edited a special edition of Generations, a quarterly publication of the American Society on Aging, which was devoted to elder abuse and neglect.

She advised the Dept. of Justice, the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institute on Aging, and the National Academy of Sciences.  And in her day job, she was director of the Institute on Aging at UMass Memorial Health Care in Worcester, MA and assistant professor, Dept. of Medicine and Family Practice at UMass Medical School.

But perhaps most importantly, she advised any and all who came to her for information and consultation. She was a living, breathing data bank on elder abuse, and one didn’t need a password to get in.  The professionals she mentored are scattered around the planet.

She didn’t want to fade away, and she didn’t. We lost the light of her physical presence, but not its effects. Her leadership lives on in the body of work she contributed and the worldwide network she created.  We salute her.  May her spirit continue to guide us.

by Georgia J. Anetzberger
October 2011

Rosalie was a gentle but absolutely committed advocate for preventing elder abuse. She was kind and supportive of everyone. I saw her shortly before her death. As ill as she was, Rosalie pushed herself to remain active and "make a difference" in addressing this problem. She was a pioneer in this field on so many levels


by Lisa Nerenberg, MSW, MPH

November 2011

I first met Rosalie in the mid-80s at a meeting of AoA grantees in Washington. She and Karl Pillemer had already completed their first groundbreaking study of model programs, and I’d just received my first (ever) grant to replicate our fledgling San Francisco Consortium. Rosalie was intrigued by our work in San Francisco, and I was intrigued by her interest. I soon came to understand that serving victims was at the heart of Rosalie’s research, academic, and advocacy work. When she and Karl invited me to join them in their next evaluation project, it was the beginning of a partnership and friendship that lasted until her death.

Rosalie was also deeply committed to grassroots advocacy. When AoA solicited proposals for the first incarnation of the National Center on Elder Abuse, she invited me to collaborate on developing a technical assistance component to help out local and state coalitions. Although the contract was awarded to the American Public Welfare Association, the Center’s founding director Toshi Tatara invited Rosalie in as a partner, and she pulled me in as part of the deal. Later we drew on those experiences to launch NCPEA’s Affiliate Program. Together we also developed a compendium of AoA products, guest-edited an edition of Generations, convened peer groups at ASA, carried out an Archstone Foundation-sponsored project to help communities fight financial abuse, and collaborated on many other projects.

It was, however, the rare glimpses into Rosalie’s personal life that I remember most fondly--hearing her talk about her kids, of whom she was so proud, and her deep ties to her community and faith. I remember the look of surprise on my assistant’s face when she brought in a fax Rosalie had sent of her favorite Passover pear kugel (noodle pudding). Imagine the eminent doctor Wolf in apron and oven mitt.

When Rosalie died, several people offered condolences to me on the loss of a mentor. It’s funny that I hadn’t really viewed Rosalie in those terms. It wasn’t that I didn’t recognize her stature, but rather, that the term has always had a mother-hennish connotation to me, and solicitousness was not Rosalie’s style. She inspired by example and led by creating opportunities for participation and growth. And for those of us whose careers she helped shape, there was no greater motivation than aspiring to earn the respect of one we so respected.  


by Holly Ramsey-Klawsnik, PhD

Excerpted from Ramsey-Klawsnik’s introduction to the JEAN Special Edition “Elder Sexual Abuse:  Clinical and Research Findings” (Vol. 20(4), 2008) that she edited.

Sexual abuse is arguably the most overlooked form of elder abuse. In 1989 I was first approached about the problem. I had worked with child sexual abuse cases for many years, conducted sexual abuse research, trained professionals in many states, evaluated and treated victims, conducted court-ordered abuse investigations, and served as an expert witness in many cases. Despite these experiences, I was shocked when contacted by the late Pauline L. Fairservice, a representative of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs Protective Services Program, regarding elderly individuals who had been sexually abused by family members or other care providers. Ms. Fairservice requested that I train their staff to interview suspected sexual abuse victims. I politely declined, stating that my experience in geriatrics was limited to previous

nursing home social work and that I did not know if my knowledge about interviewing young alleged sexual assault victims would be relevant to elders. I suggested that the agency enlist the services of an expert in elder sexual abuse. I can still hear the incredulous response to my naïve comment. Ms. Fairservice patiently explained the limits of the existing expertise regarding sexual abuse of older adults. She discussed an elderly Massachusetts woman who had been raped with an object by her son and suffered extensive injuries. She convinced me that my experience might help their staff perform better interviews and case investigations. I agreed to volunteer training time if the agency would allow me to interview caseworkers handling suspected elder sexual abuse cases. I also asked to interview elderly sexual abuse victims who were willing and able to consent to this. I had no idea at that time that I was embarking on the first ever study of elder sexual abuse.

I set out to learn what was known about the sexual victimization of older adults. I turned to the esteemed founder of this journal, the late Dr. Rosalie Wolfe, to educate me about elder abuse and available information specific to sexual abuse. With kindness, Dr. Wolfe disabused me of the notion that I was going to find existing studies, literature, or practice guidelines on the topic. She inquired as to the reason for my interest. She could not have been more encouraging when she learned that I was attempting to understand the state of knowledge regarding elder sexual abuse and adapt what was relevant from work with younger victims to guide Elder and Adult Protective Services (APS) workers. She welcomed me to the elder abuse field and created opportunities for sharing with others what I learned about elder sexual abuse. I always will be grateful for her generosity and encouragement.



by Art Mason, Director

Elder Abuse Prevention Program, Rochester NY

December 2011

"My Fond Memories"

During my last year of my Master’s degree program, I did my field work at a small, two person program 1988, one name kept coming up- Dr. Rosalie Wolf. I read every article I could and realized this woman was the icon in the field.

Fast forward to 1990 and I was organizing the first ever elder abuse conference to be held in Rochester, N.Y.  I needed an expert in the field, but could not afford to pay much for a plenary speaker with the kind of in depth knowledge I needed. I called Rosalie to ask if she knew anyone. Surprisingly to me, SHE answered her own phone- I was in total awe ! Not only did she volunteer to be our speaker (for the price of an airline ticket) but she gave me the name of another colleague who was also an excellent speaker.
When I called the colleague, they initially were not interested and too busy to come to Rochester for a “local conference”. No way, no how ! When I mentioned that Rosalie had not only recommended them, but would be in attendance herself, the colleague immediately changed their mind and asked me when the conference was to occur and what they could do to help. That was the amazing, yet subtle, reverence that Dr. Rosalie Wolf was held in.

People with true passion in their work are few and far between. Rosalie was an example for all of us to aspire to. She did not want exclusive attention for her work, she wanted to share. She wanted all of us to work together to raise awareness and keep an open mind to learn more about our field. On the 10th anniversary of her passing, she would be proud of what has happened, but would keep reminding us to do more.



by Terry Fulmer

Dean, Bouvé College of Health Sciences, Boston MA

January 2012

It was a privilege to know Rosalie, and I will always remember her gentle demeanor, her keen intelligence and her passion for her work. Few of us have this rare talent—combining those attributes in a way that fit so beautifully. She was a scholar who tackled the hard questions and she decided to take on the question of elder abuse when few had any notion such a malady was possible. In her unassuming way, she caught the attention of the field of gerontology and then a nation.   I am so proud to have known her and to have had the opportunity to serve with her on committees and in important conversations. When some said the area of elder mistreatment could not successfully launch a Journal, she said we could and she did. Any of us who knew her will remember that she was a champion of “others” and always promoted her students  and the faculty she mentored. When she was awarded the Kent Lectureship from the Gerontological Society of America, she used the opportunity to remind all those present that there was much to be done to better understand the phenomenon of elder mistreatment and that all of us had obligation to keep vigilante. She praised those who had taught her and made sure she called out her lovely family, all present that day, including her twin sister! I had the pleasure of visiting her home in Worcester Mass when we were both on the Board of the Massachusetts Gerontology Association and it radiated the warmth and caring so typical of Rosalie. I will never forget her, and will always be grateful to her for mentoring me and also role modeling for young female scientists, how we could do it all.



by Karen Stein, Ph.D.
2012 Editor in Chief
Journal of Elder Abuse and Neglect
Associate Professor, Leadership
School of Public Policy and Administration
University of Delaware

The first time I met Rosalie was at an AoA meeting for new grantees.  Suzanne Steinmetz and I at the University of Delaware had just received a grant to produce elder abuse training materials and to establish the Clearinghouse on Abuse and Neglect of the Elderly (CANE).  I was a neophyte in the field and had no idea who Rosalie was. That soon changed.  As I began collecting (the very few) elder abuse literature, it became quite apparent that Rosalie was THE premier researcher—asking the important questions and developing rock-solid methodologies.  To me, however, she was still that Very Important Star, someone who I thought unapproachable.  How wrong I was.  In 1988, Toshio Tatara of the American Public Welfare Association became the lead PI in the very first National Aging Resource Center on Elder Abuse (now known as the National Center on Elder Abuse); we and the National Association of State Units on Aging were partners with APWA.  We had that grant for several years, and for several years, many organizations asked to join NARCEA as partners. Toshi always refused, preferring a more manageably-sized Center.  But, when Rosalie Wolf knocked on the door, asking for a seat at the table not for herself but for NCPEA, it was impossible to say no.  It was then that I began to really know Rosalie as a partner in the various incarnations of the Center and as a continuing researcher and advocate.  In fact, she was the most approachable of people who believed strongly and firmly in societal justice, and not just in issues of elder abuse.  I remember her recommending the book “A Civil Action” to me, both horrified at the environmental damages detailed in the book and uplifted by the power of the individual to fight Goliath on behalf of the “nobodies” and forgotten people.  But more than anything, I remember Rosalie as the ultimate peacemaker.  As often happens in small families, there can be petty squabbles, jealousies and jockeying for positions of favor.  The elder abuse field was no exception.  This was something that Rosalie abhorred and she never stood quietly by; she called people on their behaviors (but in the most polite way) and always counseled that the field must stand together. We listened.