By JON BAKER
PAWTUCKET – Anyone who knows Herb Weiss understands he can be relentless and, even he admits, overbearing. At the same time, no one can refute his intense love and passion for the city, its booming arts community and diverse culture.
Mayor James Doyle first hired him in 1999 to be a program manager for development projects due to his writing and promotional skills, and one of his duties was to oversee the 307-acre arts district. Because of his success in promoting the arts, he was named in 2004 Pawtucket’s first Economic & Cultural Affairs Officer.
To this day, Mayor Donald Grebien calls him one of the heartbeats of the city.
In that position, Weiss, now 67 and a city resident, has lured and/or worked with hundreds of artists, business owners, movie makers and the like to the city to hone their crafts and/or help it grow. A driver of Pawtucket’s arts-oriented development strategy, his efforts to bring artists to its historic and renovated mill buildings have drawn national attention.
What some people may not know about Weiss, however, is the fact he’s an award-winning journalist and author in the field of aging, senior health care and medical issues. With every “Age Beat” editorial commentary he writes for the Pawtucket Times, Woonsocket Call, a statewide, monthly senior publication or RI News Today, a digital news site, he continues to earn a reputation as an expert in those fields.
In fact, on Thursday afternoon, Weiss received word from Senate President Dominick Ruggerio that he had been appointed to the Rhode Island Advisory Council on Alzheimer’s Disease Research. That’s not much of a surprise, given the fact he’s already on the Governor’s Advisory Council on Aging.
Back in 2015, he decided to gather some of his most poignant articles and assemble them into his first book for seniors entitled “Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly.” This past January, Weiss figured it was time for a sequel, so handpicked 75 more stories written between 2016-2021 for those newspapers and sites and named it, appropriately, “Taking Charge Volume 2: More Stories on Aging Boldly.”
His first book was published by Stillwater River Publications owner Steve Porter, just down Roosevelt Avenue from his office at City Hall, in August 2016. Five years later, the second was published.
“Like the previous volume, this collection of articles gives the reader insights and practical information about how people in their later years can take charge and enjoy a full and satisfying quality of life, unparalleled in our nation’s history,” Weiss says. “Even if the article was written years ago, the insight is still factual and valuable to the reader.
“These articles bring together the expertise and knowledge of experts along with comments of people over age 50 sharing their observations and insights about caregiving, travel, surviving COVID-19, improving health and finances, relationships, retirement and leisure to their thoughts about mental health, spirituality and death.”
Weiss has won numerous state and national honors – including the 2003 AARP-Rhode Island’s Vision Award and the 1994 and 1999 American College of Health Care Administrators’ National Award – for what he calls “my second full-time job.”
But when asked how he became so involved in the subject of aging, Weiss laughed, calling it “Bashert, or a Yiddish word for karma or destiny.
“To be candid with you, I sort of fell into it,” he said, referring to his days just after graduating from the University of Texas-Austin with a Bachelor’s in Psychology with a concentration in social work in 1977. “I had a high school friend, David Ross, who had been discharged from the Navy. When he came home from service, he told me he had applied to North Texas State University to get a Master’s.
“He was going to get it from the Center for Studies in Aging, and he said, ‘Why don’t you apply with me?’” he continued. “At the time, it was really difficult to get a job in Texas, given the economy. I thought about it for a while, then figured, ‘Why not?’”
Weiss was one of the last people in the program to get a grant from the U.S. Administration on Aging to train nursing home administrators, and that helped him pay for tuition and books at the school now known as the University of North Texas. He gleaned his Master’s in Long Term Care & Retirement Management in 1979.
“Some people may think it had something to do with my grandparents or relatives, but it had more to do with my buddy Dave,” he said. “We’re still in contact; he’s living in North Carolina, and we still joke about how I got into it. I wrote my first article in 1980 for ‘Contemporary Long-Term Care,’ a nursing home trade publication, and the headline was ‘AIT View of the World.’ The AIT stands for Administrator in Training.
“I had my first internship at the Hebrew Home of Greater Washington in Bethesda, Md., and – fast forward to today – I’ve had over 800 articles published or co-authored, all on the topics of aging, health care and medical issues. I’ve been writing over 40 years.”
His first book sold between 350-400 copies, while his second, he said, has only been out since August 16 but already has eclipsed the 220 mark.
“I’m thrilled, but I’m not surprised,” he said. “I’ve got some very impressive reactions to it.”
Says Robyn Spizman, media personality and author of Loving Out Loud: The Power of a Kind Word: “Herb Weiss knocks it out of the ballpark with his book ‘Taking Charge: Volume 2,’ which continues addressing the journey of aging smart as well as gracefully. He shows how to be an educated consumer when making decisions that affect your financial, emotional and overall life throughout your golden years. Throughout his book, Weiss takes charge of your future independence and aims at keeping you informed and healthy! He is a walking, talking resource, and this book is a credit to his well-researched, seasoned columns over the years.”
Said Sarah Lenz Lock, Senior Vice President for Policy & Brain Health at AARP: “Herb Weiss’s collection of 75 essays portrays how we can all age boldly. His book provides a refreshingly positive portrait of living longer. What is striking as you read each of his stories is that, despite our culture’s general worship of youth, Herb’s “Age Beat’ is a place that celebrates the increasing wisdom and experience that comes with longer lives. His writings offer the most human and best way of giving you the advice you need in a way you want: Storytelling.”
Says Fernando Torres-Gil, former U.S. Assistant Secretary on Aging and UCLA Professor: “Herb Weiss gives us a great gift in his anthology of insights on the many issues of an aging society – from caregiving to mental health to travel and leisure. All you need to know about understanding, appreciating and benefiting from longevity are found in his revelations and assessment of the complex and fascinating issues of growing old in America. Kudos to this Volume 2 of ‘his greatest hits.’”
Weiss said he was humbled but proud of such comments, and that with his stories/columns he’s just trying to inform seniors and help give them advice during the aging process.
One of his favorites begins on Page 127 in a chapter entitled Long-Term Care Continuum, “Congressman Cicilline Poised for Legacy as Next Fiery Advocate on Aging.
“I wrote that because he’s introduced a resolution in the House calling for the re-establishment of the House Aging Committee, which was terminated in 1993 because of budget issues,” Weiss said of Rep. David Cicilline. “If he’s successful, it will make him one of the most visible and vociferous advocates for seniors in the nation.
“That committee would spotlight policies that are very important to enhance the quality of lives for seniors,” he added. “Writing allows me to have a bully pulpit, an opportunity to speak out about bringing back the House Aging Committee. It also gives me a bully pulpit for a number of other issues facing seniors.’
“With our growing age population, lawmakers need to be aware of the needs of seniors. The committee would be authorized to conduct a continuing comprehensive study and review of aging issues and policies, including Social Security, Medicare, housing and income.”
For more information on the books’ author or to purchase a book, visit www.herbweiss.com.
“If folks buy one from me, the book is $20 and there’s a $4 fee for postage and handling, but I will also personally sign it if people wish,” he said.