BY MAJA GAWRONSKA, MA
“As a young boy I was thinking about the wonders of this world and what it would be like to live to 2000. Another big dream of mine was to move to California,” said Dr. Robert Bettinger. He was forty-seven when he moved to San Francisco. And he is still going strong having accomplished his early goals and many more.
Now in his late eighties, Dr. Bettinger has not slowed down. A retired Episcopal priest, who became a psychologist, is on a mission to help others. He is an active advocate for the LGBT seniors and their housing needs in San Diego. He volunteers with the UC San Diego Health to improve nursing services for older adults. He has worked with the county agencies to improve services for the LGBT community.
Dr. Bettinger is also a volunteer with the LGBT Community Center Senior Advisory Committee and other projects. Finally, he serves as an informal mentor for the gay community supporting those in crisis and during a major life change.
Dr. Bettinger's fascinating life is difficult to sum up in a few paragraphs. He was a soldier in World War II; a college chaplain during the Vietnam war in the sixties, which meant involvement in the emerging vivil rights and human rights movement, including emerging women’s rights, abortion rights, sexual revolution, and many changes in educational processes. He was also an educator in nursing schools, one of the first to teach communication skills and geriatric nursing; and a leader of HIV advocacy and educational programs in California and Florida in the eighties. Having completed his Ph.D. in Humanistic Psychology, he was active in the human potential movement helping families of gay patients, and developing public health programs way before others started to change health care to make it more affordable and accessible for all. “I was often fortunate to be in a right place at a right time, and I was looking for the meaning in my life,” he said.
But his life was not free from struggles and turmoils. He suffered PTSD, made difficult career transitions, discovered that he was gay when he was married with four children. Later two of his partners have died with AIDS.
“I was always on the go, always adventures, always energetic, and always getting into trouble. All my life I was wondering what was the driving force behind my behavior,” said Dr. Bettinger. “The most important health diagnosis came just before my eightieth birthday. That was when I discovered I had a special gift of AHDH. Finally, it occurred to me and I the last eight years have been the best time of my life.”
Asked about his tips on successful aging, Dr. Bettinger says it is important to stay physically and mentally fit as long as possible. A supporter of Sierra Club, he likes outdoor activities and tries to hike or walk every day. He also watches his diet and remains socially active. But most importantly he stays helpful.