As 1980 came around the bend, Maggie Kuhn was 10 years into her second career and - as fiercely as ever - beating back every stereotype about getting old.
She was 75 and, despite osteoporosis, unbending in her belief that as Americans age, they have the right to be as active, respected, and gainfully employed as every other citizen. Old age, she said, is "the flowering of life, a triumph, not a disease."
Kuhn, founder of the Gray Panthers, considered herself "a rabble-rouser" to the end of her days. After being forced to retire from the United Presbyterian Office of Church and Society at 65, she would spend an additional 24 years organizing protests, lobbying Washington, and joining with civil rights and labor movements to challenge injustice.
The Inquirer would follow her rise to national prominence, marking her progress in its pages.
"It seems to me that all of us at any time in life, but certainly in late life, can only survive and thrive when we have a goal, a passionate purpose, that we're going to devote some time and energy and thought to," Kuhn said. "It is important that this objective be beyond ourselves."
She drew attention for her boldness both in her public appearances and her convention-breaking private life. An early advocate of multigenerational cohabitation, she lived in Germantown with her "family of choice" consisting of five women, three men, five cats, a poodle, and a tank of tropical fish. Two of her housemates were married, two were gay, and the group's ages ranged from 27 to 75.
At its founding, Kuhn's group was called the Consultation of Older and Younger Adults for Social Change. After a television talk-show producer nicknamed it the Gray Panthers, the moniker stuck.
Kuhn used brash measures to draw attention to issues. She once sent a raspberry to President George H.W. Bush, along with a Valentine's package of symbolic "gifts": a cardboard box representing the homeless, an empty plate for the hungry, and a wire coat hanger, alluding to illegal abortions.
On its Web site today, the organization - now based in Washington - quotes Kuhn. Her statement, defining who the Gray Panthers are, resonates with the defiance she felt and displayed, in response to demeaning stereotypes of aging.
"We are the risk-takers; we are the innovators; we are the developers of new models. We are trying the future on for size. That is our role." - Melissa Dribben