Active for life: Ory celebrates 20 years at Texas A&M, receives prestigious award
As she nears her 20th year at Texas A&M University and a career spanning over four decades, Marcia G. Ory, MPH, PhD, is a leading scholar who embodies what women in health sciences can achieve. From her positions in the Texas A&M University School of Public Health, including Regents and Distinguished Professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, as well as founding director of the Texas A&M Center for Population Health and Aging, Ory engages in a broad portfolio of research, education and practice that has made a difference in the lives of countless older adults and their families across the nation.
It is because of her sustained commitment to her research that Ory has received The Association of Former Students’ Distinguished Achievement Award in Research from Texas A&M University for 2021. Presented since 1955, this award recognizes outstanding members of Texas A&M’s faculty and staff for their commitment, performance and positive impact on Aggie students, Texas citizens and the world around them.
Ory’s mother Esther Rose’s life choices have inspired Ory’s more than 40 years of research on healthy aging and community-based prevention and wellness programs.
“Mom’s positive choices as she grew older spurred my interest in studying the factors that influence the adoption and maintenance of healthy lifestyles. I observed many concrete examples where behavior change research could be translated into practice,” Ory said.
Rose walked regularly in the mall with her friends before the stores opened. Even toward the end of her life when a fall necessitated the use of a walker, Rose worked out regularly with a personal trainer until a few months before she died at age 93.
Additionally, accompanying her mother to doctor’s appointments spurred Ory’s research in primary care and how individuals communicate with their doctors. When Rose was told by her doctor to stop driving at age 85 and she had no other way to get around, Ory recognized, through her mother, the context in which people live is key to behavior change leading to further research in community-based interventions.
“My mom’s example of a positive, healthy lifestyle continues to propel me to research how others might, throughout their entire lifespan, be encouraged to do the same.”
Working with interdisciplinary teams, Ory’s primary goal is to conceptualize and implement innovative projects to reframe healthy aging as the new normal.
“I recognize that aging is everyone’s business,” Ory said. “There is a need to foster strong ties across different sectors bringing campus, community, clinical and corporate perspectives to determine the best prevention and intervention strategies for healthy aging.”
Ory’s research output has been prolific. She has authored or co-authored 10 edited books, 50 book forewords/chapters, 20 edited issues in professional journals, 440 articles published in peer-reviewed journals, and contributed to more than 500 presentations at international, national, state and local venues. Her substantive expertise is expansive and includes pioneering applied and translational research on women’s health, health behaviors and environments; chronic disease management; dementia care; doctor-patient interactions; falls and injury prevention; community engagement and health disparities. Her newest research interest examines the role of technology in helping older adults to age in place, and attention to recent public health issues such as the opioid crisis or the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prior to coming to Texas A&M in 2001, Ory spent 20 years in federal service as chief of social science research on aging in the National Institute on Aging’s Behavioral and Social Research Program at the National Institutes of Health. Ory is a distinguished alumna of Purdue University from where she holds a doctorate, and she has a Master of Public Health and postdoctoral fellowship from The Johns Hopkins University.
“I recognize the importance of understanding multiple interacting genetic, biological, behavioral and social determinants of health,” Ory said. “The potential of intervention is possible at any age, with no one strategy being the right answer—there is a need for multiple intervention strategies.”
Such intervention studies that Ory has conceived and conducted include lifestyle health promotion programs to encourage active living; chronic disease management programs around Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and diabetes; environmental and technological innovations including wearable assistive technology; and opioid overdose prevention and education programs.
Currently, she is leading a Rural Health Care Moonshot initiative to examine innovative diabetes education programs that can be scaled up and sustained over time to improve the health and well-being of vulnerable populations. Another recent activity is leading public health efforts to advance research and practice about emergent public health crises such as the opioid overdose epidemic or the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nurturing careers of others
Even though Ory is one of today’s leading international researchers on healthy aging and community-based prevention and wellness programs, she makes sure to take time to nurture the careers of others—whether undergrads, grad students or junior faculty. Her dedication to enhancing the careers of new scholars in aging is supported by her receipt of the Distinguished Mentor Award from the Gerontological Society of America in 2007.
“One of my greatest professional joys is to stimulate the careers of others. I consider mentoring an important aspect of any job and encourage my Texas A&M colleagues to engage in an active mentoring relationship. The benefits to all are substantial.”
In addition to her mentorship efforts, she also believes in giving back to the School of Public Health through student fellowships. In fact, she recently contributed to the excellence fund to support a promising female African American undergraduate.
Walking the walk of active aging
Ory enjoys living the life of an older woman, and personally walks the walk—both literally and figuratively. Two years ago, she had a fall that left her with a broken foot. That didn’t keep her down. Once healed, she was back to taking her daily walks and taking the stairs instead of the elevator at work.
Although she has plans to eventually retire and spend more time with family in the Pacific Northwest, it is not on the immediate horizon—retirement won’t happen until she is no longer making a difference in people’s lives.
“I’m pleased to be honored as one of this year’s recipients of the Association of Former Students’ Distinguished Achievement Award in Research. It is especially telling that this announcement comes during Women’s History Month. I hope I can be an inspiration to other women—young and old!”