Since its inception, AARP has been a membership organization that relies on volunteers. Our founder, Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus, was a volunteer throughout her time leading the organization. To this day, AARP’s all-volunteer board of directors and national president continue that tradition of volunteer leadership.
In Florida, state presidents serve as lead volunteer, spokesperson and strategic partner for state directors like me. In my 14 years with AARP (four as state director), I have been fortunate to work with three exceptional state presidents: Lois Herron, Judy Thames and Doug Heinlen.
Each of these volunteers has given untold hours to represent AARP at a wide range of events and to represent AARP members in working groups and conferences within the association. Doug has done both masterfully in his six years as state president.
One of the many things I appreciate about Doug is the way he “reality tests” our work. Doug has the intellect to master complex policy areas, and he’s done so on the full range of AARP issues. What is even more valuable, though, is that the lens he brings to our work is not that of a “policy wonk” but as someone who has encountered those issues – financial planning and fraud, medical costs and access to care, caregiving and long-term care, transportation and housing – in his private life.
On many occasion, Doug has countered brilliant policy experts with the lived experience of how a policy decision play out in the lives of members like him. He has served as our conscience, and he has been invaluable in that role.
Doug also understands and relishes that as AARP Florida’s lead volunteer, he has the opportunity and responsibility to speak truth to power, whether that power be in Tallahassee or Washington. While he came to us as a relatively inexperienced advocate, he learned quickly that the same skills that served him in sales translate well to advocating in Congress, the Legislature, or even within AARP. Doug is an advocate at heart and has been a strong one on behalf of AARP members.
It has also been my pleasure to get to know Doug personally. His daughter was a middle-schooler when I met her; she has now graduated from college and served in the Peace Corps. His wife is like an extended part of our family. We have mourned with Doug over lost family members and supported him as he has faced health crises. He may be exiting his role as president, but he will always be part of our family.
AARP presidents can serve a maximum of three two-year terms, and Doug reaches his term limit at the end of 2014. I wish every AARP member could know how much Doug has done on their behalf. He deserves their thanks. I hope his successor is as passionate and talented.