Beyond Adulthood: The Third Age and Giving Back

Alumna gives $100K to Stony Brook Cancer Research

According to the National Aging Institute, a person born at the beginning of the 20th Century could expect to live between 40 and 50 years. In 2009 that number had jumped to at least 81 and is expected to continue to rise. It has older adults asking, yet again, what do I want to be when I grow up?

Elder Law Attorney Nancy Burner, Esq. ’85, and others who study aging, often refer to these additional years as the Third Age, a time of life that follows adulthood. “For 20 or 30 years people in the latter portion of life can be thinking what’s next. There is life after work. The third age is where people are really at their best,” she said, because for many this time of life often involves giving back to others and their local communities.

Always leading by example, Nancy Burner & Associates, P.C., recently completed a $100,000 donation to the Stony Brook University Cancer Center to benefit head and neck cancer research.

Burner has studied extensively and blogged about the Third Age, which she explained was inspired and brought about by the idea of generativity, a term first appearing in psychologist Erik Erikson’s 1959 theory of psychosocial development.

Defined as a need to care for those besides the self and family and to guide and contribute to the next generation, generativity is not only a crucial piece to Burner’s understanding of the psychology of aging, it’s become a personal philosophy that has transitioned into her professional life as an elder law lawyer.

The need to fight ageism, self-denigration, longevity studies and how to get involved in the community are all topics that Burner talks to her clients about. “It interests them. It’s where they are. The more I know about them, the better I can serve them,” Burner said.

“In the first part of your life you try to get attention, then as you get older you realize that life is really about giving attention to the things that matter,” Burner said. “What you pay attention to defines the quality of your life.”

Though the Nancy Burner & Associates’ gift was made in honor of Nancy’s father — who died of a rare and virulent thyroid cancer in 1987 — she said she was sure to involve the entire company when deciding on the level of gift so each of her colleagues could share in the sensation of giving.

“It never fails to impress when I see Stony Brook alumni reach out from the local community to support their alma mater,” said Dexter A. Bailey Jr., senior vice president of Advancement. “By sharing her own sense of giving with colleagues and friends, Nancy Burner reveals that her sense of philanthropy is two-fold. She’s a true role model for those around her and a community leader who should be emulated.”

This boutique law firm is accustomed to giving back to the community. Throughout the year, Nancy Burner & Associates builds upon their foundation of giving by conducting about 150 free seminars per year — free of charge to clients and community members alike — focusing on a range of topics, including book clubs, movies, activities, and smart lectures with the Stony Brook Cancer Center that focus on cancer prevention, eating healthy and geriatric topics. “Everything is fair game,” Burner said. “Those who have a sense of community and purpose in their life tend to live the longest and healthiest. To be near a thriving University center like Stony Brook, with all of its resources, makes my work that much more exciting. There are so many people with so many different interests,” she said.

Yusuf Hannun, director of the Stony Brook Cancer Center, vice dean for Cancer Medicine and Joel Strum Kenny Professor in Cancer Research, was proud to learn of the Nancy Burner & Associates gift. “There is so much promise at Stony Brook, and it’s due to the philanthropic support of our tremendous community members,” Dr. Hannun said. “When the University and its surrounding community come together to support a cause, that’s when we have the most potential to achieve great things.

“The generous gift from Nancy Burner will enable the conduct of very important and critical cancer research in head and neck cancer at the Stony Brook Cancer Center,” Dr. Hannun continued. “We are not only grateful for this gift, but for the friendship and support that Nancy, her family, colleagues and friends are bringing to the Cancer Center.”

Community is key. What do I want to be when I grow up? Nancy suggests shifting the question to: How can I make an impact on those around me? It all comes down to two common sayings: Giving is better than receiving and doing well by doing good. “We believe that. If you do the right thing for people and clients, good will come back to you,” Burner said. For her, it’s made all the difference. “To be able to contribute to cancer research so that someone else can live? That’s the pinnacle.”

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—Jordan Chapman