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Founder Kathryn Brooks, 1906-1996

Kathryn Brooks
Kathryn Brooks, 1906-1996
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Kathryn Brooks was born in Brockton, Massachusetts, in 1906. She received a bachelor's degree in History from American University in 1964 at the age of 58 after 38 years as a housewife and mother, and began teaching a high school course in government that same year. She received a master's degree from American University in 1971 at the age of 65. At the age of 69 she learned to swim. She lived in Northern Virginia since 1935, had three children, seven grandchildren and five great grandchildren. Her husband, George Brooks, is a Cornell Professor Emeritus.

Kathryn began the work of creating the Learning in Retirement Institute in 1984, and the establishment of the Institute seven years later is the direct result of her vision, dedication and tenacity. Her intention was to create an educational center for older adults similar to those at Harvard, NYU, and American University. Although the Institute is based on prototypes found elsewhere in the country, it is the first in Northern Virginia. It is also unique in that it is not an extension of a university continuing education program, but rather is the result of grass roots efforts put forth by senior citizens themselves.

As part of this effort, Kathryn Brooks worked tirelessly to organize volunteers from the community to support the project and then worked with them to prepare operating procedures and bylaws, develop a curriculum, and interview teachers. She also worked diligently to raise the consciousness of George Mason University as well as that of the larger community about the unmet need in the largest growing segment of the population, the elderly. This need was for continued intellectual challenges and growth, irrespective of age.

As a result of her efforts she received the support of the University as well as the local Area Agency on Aging, the Commission on Aging, and the Office of Adult and Community Education. After the Learning in Retirement Institute at George Mason University was established, Kathryn worked at the Institute by teaching, performing administrative duties, and raising funds. She served as the Institute's first president in 1991.

The personal example of Kathryn Brooks provides a vital and compelling lesson to all of us that being a volunteer can be a life-long passion and that growth as a human being can continue throughout one's life. In addition to the unique contribution she made in founding LRI, Kathryn was active in county and state politics for many years. In 1977, she was a delegate to the National Women's Conference in Houston on the Equal Rights Amendment. In promoting equal rights for all citizens, she volunteered many hours for the Equal Rights Amendment, adding an element of flair when she walked to Richmond from Alexandria to show her support. She was a member of the Commission for the Aging, the National Organization for Women, the League of Women Voters and the Older Women's League. Every five years on her birthday, she swam a mile to raise money for the Equal Rights Amendment movement. And, each year on Susan B. Anthony's birthday, she participated in a vigil outside the Virginia General Assembly building in Richmond, dressed as Anthony. All of these efforts, including those leading to the establishment of the Institute, were made after Kathryn retired in 1972.

Kathryn received many awards for her accomplishments, among them the J. C. Penney Golden rule Award 1992, the Silver Medal Governor's Award for Volunteering Excellence 1991, the Fairfax County office of Adult Education Outstanding Service Award 1991, and the Fairfax Commission for Women's Outstanding Women of the Year Award.

Kathryn Brooks represents personal integrity, strength of character and dedication to community. She died on June 27, 1996, leaving behind many significant accomplishments, a lifetime of giving, and many friends.

At the August 22, 2008 OLLI Board meeting, the Board of Directors approved a resolution of the Ad Hoc Committee on Naming to honor the unique contributions to OLLI of Founder Kathryn Brooks, first president of what was then the Learning in Retirement Institute, by the creation of "The Kathryn Brooks Educational Center at Tallwood," with a sign to this effect to be placed in the vicinity of the breezeway. The sign is shown in the above photo.

Updated: February 6, 2011