Dr. Bill Thomas first appeared in my life as a Twitter follower of Realize Magazine. Following him back, I was surprised to find that the man had a book tour coming to LA in a few days. Before even knowing what exactly I was diving into, I managed to arrange an interview. I then hustled to download his book, devoured it in a few days, and realized that this man held some keys which would unlock a new way to look at aging, just in time for our generation to profit from his knowledge and vision.
The book, Second Wind: Navigating the Passage to a Slower, Deeper and More Connected Life (Simon and Schuster,) is a reconsideration of the mythology that surrounds America’s Post War Generation and a guidebook for that generation on how to age with bravura and wisdom.
Bill Thomas is an author, entrepreneur, musician, teacher, farmer and a physician whose wide-ranging work explores the terrain of human aging. But above all, he’s an impassioned reformer dedicated to promoting and developing constructive, holistic approaches to aging and the care of our elders. His innovations are of enormous consequence to the boomer generation, who will of course be looking for a more enlightened form of care as we age. This synthesis of imagination and action led the Wall Street Journal to highlight Dr. Thomas as one of the nation’s “top 12 innovators” changing the future of retirement in America and US News and World Report to name him as one of “America’s best leaders.” The magazine noted his “startling common-sense ideas and his ability to persuade others to take a risk,” and concluded that “this creative and wildly exuberant country doctor has become something of a culture changer–reimagining how Americans will approach aging in the 21st century.”
A Harvard Med School grad, Dr. Thomas began his career at an upstate New York nursing home where the pervasive unhappiness of its residents led him to conclude that these elders were suffering from three plagues: loneliness, helplessness and boredom. The facilities themselves were serving more as hospitals, interacting with residents strictly on a medical level, rather than as homes. He took it upon himself to create an alternative.
As founder of The Eden Alternative, he has championed a movement that has reformed nursing homes from dreary, soul-killing warehouses into joyful habitats where life revolves around contact with the living world and a sense of meaning and purpose in life. To date, more than 300 nursing homes across the country have been "Edenized" with cheerful decor, working gardens and pets, as well as playgrounds and on-site day care for kids. It is clear that these new homes have greatly improved the lives of residents and staff alike; over the last 15 years, Eden communities have seen reduced employee turnover, patients experiencing lower infection and mortality rates.
Dr. Thomas has taken his concept even further with the creation of "Green Houses," small community residences that meet all the quality standards of a highly regulated industry within a setting that feels like home. The first four Green Houses opened in Mississippi in 2003, and in 2005, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation announced a five year ten million dollar grant that has resulted in the creation of Green House projects in nearly all fifty states.
The innovative quality of Dr. Thomas’ work and ideas has been recognized by a number of distinguished awards. He is the recipient of a three-year fellowship from the global nonprofit organization Ashoka, which searches the world for individuals with unprecedented ideas for community change. He won the America's Award, established by Norman Vincent Peale and sometimes called "The Nobel Prize for Goodness" in 1997. Dr. Thomas has also been honored by the Giraffe Project, which gives awards to people who “stick their neck out” to advance the common good. Most recently, he has been honored with the Heinz Award for the Human Condition.
Dr. Thomas’ eclectic career has included two decades living off the grid and running a mixed power farming operation (Summer Hill), founding one of the first technology companies to offer clinicians immediate access to outcome data (Rumpelstiltskin), teaching medical students and serving as a founding faculty member of UMBC’s Erickson School of Aging. He is also the founder of the influential multi-author blogging platform, ChangingAging.org. A popular public speaker, Dr. Thomas is known for his thoughtful, heartfelt (and Powerpoint-free) approach to engaging with a wide range of audiences. He has also authored novels and plays and, as the guitarist for the acoustic duo “Hot Koko,” has recorded two collections of American roots music.
Dr. Thomas continues to write, perform and help Fortune 500 companies and not-for-profits develop new products and services that make the most of normal human aging.This synthesis of imagination and action led the Wall Street Journal to highlight Dr. Thomas as one of the nation’s “top 12 innovators” changing the future of retirement in America and US News and World Report to name him as one of “America’s best leaders.” The magazine noted his “startling common-sense ideas and his ability to persuade others to take a risk,” and concluded that “this creative and wildly exuberant country doctor has become something of a culture changer–reimagining how Americans will approach aging in the 21st century.”
< The book is available on Amazon.
To find out more about the book and the tour, which will be headed to the Midwest, the South and the Northeas,t starting in early May, check out the secondwind.org website.