Learning in Retirement Program, Inc. Athens, GA
Last month, the Institute of Gerontology at the University of Georgia,
Athens, invited members of the local Learning in Retirement Program,
Inc. to a preview screening of "A Conversation with Dr. Mary Starke
Harper: A Legacy of Service"
This film, and others in this new series, is the result of a joint
effort by noted photojournalist and editor, Alan Stecker, MFA, Senior
Director of ASV Communications, and Leonard W. Poon, Ph.D., Director
of the Institute of Gerontology at UGA. Additional films in this series
will be screened during the Spring Semester (dates to be announced).
The screening was followed by an interactive discussion session with
Mr. Stecker and Dr. Poon that offered the audience the opportunity to
discuss the themes, issues, and the life journey portrayed in the film.
Viewers also offered critical feedback to the producers about how better
to present this documentary for educational purposes.
This film is the second in a series of documentary films examining
the human experience of aging through the eyes and voices of elder individuals
who have lived full and interesting lives. "A Conversation with
Dr. Mary Starke Harper: A Legacy of Service" is Mary Harper's story,
told in her own words and in the words of the people who were closest
to her. It is an intimate study of a life lived in high purpose and
deep commitment. Mary's story is about profession, love, and family.
Mary Harper describes herself as someone who began life as a little
black girl, growing up in the backwoods of rural Alabama amidst segregation
and tough times. Throughout her life, Dr. Harper was challenged with
overcoming obstacles, but she was willing to sacrifice and to make a
good fight in order to achieve her mission. Her mission was to serve
the underserved and to create a pathway for minorities to enter the
health professions. Mary Harper served four presidents in her staff
position at the National Institute of Mental Health. Under President
Clinton, she was charged with
the task of heading the mental health initiative to reform the national
mental health system - in a profession of all men.
In July of this year (2006), Dr. Harper lost her battle with cancer.
At 87, she chose not to continue her regimen of chemotherapy, because
the side effects were much too debilitating. Instead she chose to live
out her life with a clear mind, working as usual, traveling, writing
books, and advising
Everyone whose life she touched will remember Dr. Harper as a role
model, a mentor, a fierce advocate, and an activist. She leaves behind
a legacy of men and women, too numerous to count, who have entered the
health professions and who are now carrying on her work and making a
difference. At the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, there
is a geriatric and psychiatric
hospital, which bears her name. Mary Harper's story is an inspiring
account of how passion and vision can contribute to creating change
in the basic fabric of our society.