Sally Newman was honored for her work on Generations Together

Sally Newman, who created and served as executive director of Generations Together — the first university-based intergenerational studies program in the United States — and was the founding editor-in-chief of the Journal of Intergenerational Relationships, died Sept. 23, 2022 at 93.

Carrie Ann Rodzwicz, assistant editor of the journal and grants administrator for Pitt’s University Center for Social & Urban Research (UCSUR) — which housed Newman’s program —  worked closely with Newman from 2006 through the end of her career.

“In spite of our 50-plus-year age difference, we became fast friends,” Rodzwicz recalls. “She was a visionary, devoted to the field” that she pioneered. “Sally was passionate about bringing younger and older generations together for mutual learning and reducing stereotypes. Her goal was to bring intergenerational programs to communities around the world and to multiple disciplines in academia.”

Newman tried to retire repeatedly but still showed up to her office every day, Rodzwicz remembers. “It became a running joke at UCSUR. I would work with her for five-six hours per week and, in our weekly meetings, she would assign to me 20 things that needed to be completed five minutes ago. I knew, in the time it would take for me to complete the assignments, that she would complete 100 tasks.”

Born Sally May Faskow on June 4, 1929, in Brooklyn, N.Y., Newman began attending Juilliard at 16, graduating in piano in 1950. Working as a concert pianist, conductor and music teacher, she earned a master's degree from Columbia University Teachers’ College in 1954 and her Ph.D. in education from Pitt in 1973, as well as a post-doctoral gerontology certificate from Pitt’s School of Social Work in 1980.

She had already begun her academic career as a research associate in the University’s Gerontology Center (1979-1982), then became a clinical instructor in psychiatry at Western Psychiatric Institute & Clinic starting in 1982 and a senior research associate in UCSUR that same year. She was an adjunct faculty in social work here beginning in 1986 and an assistant professor in education commencing six years later, gaining emeritus status at UCSUR in 2001.

Generations Together earned broad recognition for its work, including two Presidential Awards at the White House in 1986 and 1989. Newman herself received the Clark Tibbits Award from the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education, as well as honors from the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the National Intergenerational Caucus of Early Childhood Professions.

When she received the Tibbits award, Newman was quoted in a Pitt News Service release as saying: “The quality of life of older persons is best expressed in relationship to how they fit as productive citizens in society at large. Intergenerational programming can have a profound impact on their learning, socialization and cognitive functions." 

In nominating Newman for another prize in 2011, Richard Schulz, then UCSUR director, noted her accomplishments, which included instituting a Youth in Service to Elderly program, bringing more than 1,000 middle school, high school and university students each year as volunteers to isolated, homebound or institutionalized elderly; the Intergenerational Arts Programs, partnering with 25 Western Pennsylvania school districts and the regional art community to place older artists in schools for workshops and coaching sessions; the Intergenerational Service Learning Program in Gerontology for master’s level students to learn how to design and implement intergenerational programs in their communities; and the Senior Citizen School Volunteer Program, the first intergenerational, school-based model in Pennsylvania for placing seniors in school classrooms as tutors, mentors, project monitors, examination coaches and emotional or social advisors.

She co-authored the first textbook on intergenerational issues, “Intergenerational Programs: Imperatives, Strategies, Impacts and Trends(1989) and is senior author of the textbook, “Intergenerational Programs: Past, Present and Future” (1997). She was widely cited as a spokesperson in her field, working as a consultant to university programs and social agencies here and abroad.

She was also founder and first co-chair of the International Consortium of Intergenerational Programs.

Jennifer Bissell, program coordinator of the Gerontology Research Program at UCSUR, worked alongside Newman and collaborated to create one of the courses in the graduate certificate in gerontology program, “Intergenerational Studies.” an online offering in collaboration with colleagues around the world.

“She had so much to offer and so much to say,” Bissell said of Newman. “She was fascinating, because she had so many life experiences. She was a great storyteller.”

Rodzwicz concurs: “Sally told the best stories, about camping follies, her time living in India, about growing up in New York City, about Julliard and hair modelling … to make ends meet. 

“I was shocked at my first dinner with her and her husband Ezra — Ted — that they argued about politics and religion the whole time. I was raised being told these topics were inappropriate for the dinner table since they caused arguments. Sally asked: What was wrong with that? Let everyone express their opinions and then you know where they stand.

“Sally challenged all of her younger coworkers to obtain higher degrees, go back to school, move up, fight for higher wages. She was relentless …

“She was always updating coworkers about what her grandchildren were up to in their lives. She seemed to encourage and motivate her family in the same way she did with younger colleagues at work, telling us to strive, advance, reinvent and that nothing is impossible.”

Newman is survived by her son, David (Uma Bhatt); her daughter, Dara (Scott Samuels); her sister, Ricky Fullman; and her grandchildren Tessa, Leah, Tilahun, and Ari José.

— Marty Levine