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Aging expert Florence Soltys dies at 72

The School of Social Work lost a beloved teacher, advocate and volunteer when Florence Soltys died on September 27, 2007. Known in North Carolina and across the nation as a leading expert and fearless advocate for people as they aged, she died of a heart attack. Soltys had been involved in an automobile accident Sept. 18 and had a stroke after she was hospitalized for treatment of injuries from the car’s airbag deployment.
“This is a major loss to the School and the Chapel Hill community,” said Dean Jack Richman. “Florence was a remarkable teacher and was dedicated to her students and the field of social work services to aging populations and their families. I know first hand how much her inspired teaching meant to her students and also how much her leadership meant to the community.”
A native of Tennessee, Florence Gray Soltys earned an undergraduate degree in nutrition and institutional management from the University of Tennessee, then did post-graduate work at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Her academic career, but not her activism, was interrupted for a time by her marriage to John Soltys and the births of her daughters, Rebecca and Jacqueline.
Soltys moved to Chapel Hill from Boston in 1975, where she worked as a volunteer and helped to establish Meals on Wheels in Orange County. She returned to school in 1982 to earn her MSW. After completing that degree in 1984, Soltys took a full-time position with one of her field placements, Hospice of Durham. Recruited by Dean John Turner, Soltys returned to work at the School of Social Work in 1986. She helped to develop coursework on aging, assisted with several lecture series on aging, worked on the development of the School’s Center for Aging Research and Educational Services, and created lectures that led to the development of the School of Medicine Program on Aging.
An associate clinical professor in both the School of Medicine and the School of Social Work, Soltys was also an adjunct associate professor in the School of Nursing. She lectured in the areas of occupational and physical therapy in the School of Medicine. In addition to teaching, she was a field advisor for social work students interested in geriatric social work.
Soltys was the coordinator of the School of Medicine’s Hubbard Program, which is an interdisciplinary home health program training students in medicine, allied health, nursing, pharmacy, social work and dentistry to practice collaboratively in the care of their older patients. Each week Soltys took students with her on visits to frail elders in the community.
Soltys was also accompanied by social work students every week when she worked in the Geriatric Evaluation Clinic at the UNC Ambulatory Care Center (ACC). At the ACC, Soltys worked as a part of an experienced interdisciplinary team of health professionals to provide frail elderly patients, who face complex medical, social and psychiatric problems, with comprehensive assessments and evaluations.
In addition to teaching and working with students, Soltys was a mentor to students and encouraged their involvement in aging-related advocacy and organizations. Each year students accompanied her to state legislative sessions to observe the process behind the policymaking decisions for aging-related issues. In March 2007, Soltys and eight social work students traveled to Chicago to give presentations at the joint American Society on Aging and National Council on Aging Conference.
As if working within three schools at the University was not enough to keep her busy, Soltys also worked with many aging-related community and professional organizations. Locally, she served on the Orange County Nursing Home Advisory Board and the Orange County Advisory Board for Aging, was co-chair of the Orange County master aging plan, and chair of Orange County Seniors Inc., a non-profit that runs an adult day health center in Hillsborough. In addition, Soltys regularly hosted a local cable access television show called “In Praise of Age” that addresses concerns of older adults in Orange County. She served on the board of Carol Woods Retirement Community in Chapel Hill for 12 years as well as on the board of Charles House, an adult day health care center in Carrboro. An advocate for senior adults at the state level, Soltys served on the North Carolina Study Commission on Aging and previously served on a committee that founded Hospice in North Carolina in 1977.
Nationally, Soltys was a member of the American Society on Aging, served on its mental health board, and chaired its membership committee. She was also active with the Gerontological Society of America and the Southern Gerontological Society. Internationally, Soltys served as president of the International Society for Reminiscence and Life Review.
Throughout her career, Soltys was honored for both her excellence in teaching and commitment to service in the field of aging. Students at the School awarded Soltys with the Most Supportive Faculty Member Award and the Most Innovative Professor Award. The University community has recognized Soltys for both her teaching and service. In 2001, she received the University’s Distinguished Teaching Award for Post-Baccalaureate Instruction, and in 2006, she received the Ned Brooks Award for Public Service. Honored for her outstanding service in the community, Soltys has received awards far too numerous to list.
After more than 21 years at the School of Social Work, Soltys retired in June 2007.