September 19, 2016
My grandmother, Brooke Astor, was a role model and ahead of her time when it came to philanthropy. Well into her tenth decade of life, she was known as "New York's First Lady" and a "humanist aristocrat with a generous heart" who immersed herself in a form of engaged philanthropy decades before the practice was mainstream.
As president of the Vincent Astor Foundation from 1959 until she closed the foundation in 1997, she worked to advance the "quality of life" in her beloved New York City. But in 2006, at the age of 104, she unknowingly became an advocate for elder Americans, for "quality of life at the end of life." That year, after I learned she had been a victim of elder abuse perpetrated by her own son — my father — I sought her guardianship. However, the press discovered the contents of my guardianship petition, leading to lurid front-page headlines and the harsh spotlight of unwanted publicity. While my grandmother would never have wanted to be known as one of America's most famous victims of elder abuse, it may be one of her greatest and most lasting legacies.
I came to the cause of elder justice through my grandmother's sad personal circumstances. It was a situation that informed and touched me, firing my commitment to lend support to the cause and join with others to enact meaningful change.
When I first sought to assist my grandmother, I didn't know what resources were available to me, where I could turn for help, or how I could help those who had helped her. To say I found it confusing and overwhelming is an understatement.
In 2010, after a six-month criminal trial that ended in my father's conviction, I began to speak at events and conferences across the nation in what eventually turned into a multiyear listening tour. Over these last half dozen years, I have learned much from the professionals who do so much — for so many — often with so little. I have come to realize that elder abuse is a systemic problem that demands systems-based solutions.