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Gray Panther Founder Maggie Kuhn Dies

April 22, 1995 GMT

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Maggie Kuhn, who decided retirement age was no reason to give up and helped found the Gray Panthers as a tool against discrimination and the Vietnam War, died Saturday at age 89.

Kuhn died at home in her nurse’s arms, said her personal secretary, Sue Leary. She had suffered from arthritis and osteoporosis for years.

``She had always said she wanted to die before she reached the age of 90 and she was going to turn 90 in August. She kind of died her way,″ said Laura Quinn, who helped Kuhn write her autobiography, ``No Stone Unturned: The Life and Times of Maggie Kuhn.″

``The country is losing one of its most indefatigable activists,″ Quinn said. ``She epitomized the power of the grass roots.

``She just charmed the whole country. She’s just a charming person who with pithy sayings and incredible determination just changed the way everyone thought about old age.″

Kuhn’s outspoken and fierce determination surprised many taken in by her white hair and slight, grandmotherly figure. On national television in 1974, she took ``Tonight Show″ host Johnny Carson to task for his ``Aunt Blabby″ impersonation. And she chided President Ford for calling her a young lady.

Kuhn was one of five women who founded the Gray Panthers 25 years ago. She said she got involved after being forced to retire from the United Presbyterian Office of Church and Society at age 65.

In a 1989 interview, she said the world unfairly portrays the old as weak.

``The first myth is that old age is a disease, a terrible disease that you never admit you’ve got, so you lie about your age,″ she said. ``Well, it’s not a disease _ it’s a triumph. Because you’ve survived. Failure, disappointment, sickness, loss _ you’re still here.″

But the group’s first organizing issue was U.S. involvement in Vietnam. ``That issue identified us with the young,″ she said.

The Panthers also turned to a host of other social issues, battling sexism and racial injustice.

The Panthers now have more than 40,000 members in 32 states and six countries. Only one of the founders, Polly Cuthbertson, is alive, in a Philadelphia retirement home.

Kuhn’s autobiography told her story against the backdrop of 20th century changes: the labor, peace, civil rights, environmental and women’s movements.

It included a frank discussion of her sexual and romantic encounters. Kuhn, who never married, wrote of a 15-year relationship with a married minister and an affair with a man 50 years her junior she met when he was a University of Washington student.

Sexuality is ``the material of life and to deny it in old age is to deny life itself,″ Kuhn said.

She was mugged in 1987, suffering a broken shoulder and arm, but said she held no grudge against her assailants.

``You have to look at my accident in terms of a sick society,″ she said. ``They’re sick and troubled or they wouldn’t turn to violence. The alienation between old and young is dreadful.″

Funeral arrangements were incomplete.

She had written that she would like her gravestone inscribed: ``Here lies Maggie Kuhn under the only stone she left unturned.″