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Obituaries

Judith D. Kasper, Johns Hopkins public health researcher who co-conducted acclaimed study on aging, dies

Dr. Judith D. Kasper was the sole author of two books and joint author of more than 150 peer-reviewed publications.

Judith D. Kasper, a highly regarded Johns Hopkins public health researcher who co-conducted one of the most significant studies on aging “ever conducted in the U.S. and in the world,” according to a colleague, died of a heart attack Aug. 4 in her longtime Bolton Hill home. She was 72.

“Judy and I were colleagues and friends,” said Ellen J. MacKenzie, dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health in a statement released by the university. “I always took joy in her can-do attitude, her kindness, love of life, and good humor.

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“As the sole author of two books and joint author of more than 150 peer-reviewed publications, Judy was best known for her pathbreaking work on the consequences of high rates of uninsurance and, with professor emeritus and chair in Health Policy and Management Karen Davis, her insightful analysis for the Commonwealth Fund Commission on Elderly People Living Alone,” she wrote.

Luigi Ferrucci, who is a geriatrician and an epidemiologist and chief of the Longitudinal Studies Section at the National Institute on Aging, and is the director of the Baltimore Longitudinal Study on Aging, was one of Dr. Kasper’s collaborators.

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“Judith realized that the science of disability with aging and caregiving patterns had made progress but a national view of this enormous occurrence was missing,” Dr. Ferrucci wrote in an email from Italy. “Thus, she designed a representative study for the National Health and Aging Trends Study in collaboration with her colleague Vicki A. Freedman.

“The study is revolutionary in many ways, for the representativeness of the sample, the sample size, the solid conceptualization of disability, the data sharing policy, the solid implementation also used a good advisory committee. I was privileged to be one of the advisers, although Judith and Vicky had very clear and innovative idea of what needed to be done.

“NHATS will live and Judith’s imprint will never be lost and will bring a bright memory of her in the years to come,” he wrote.

Dr. Ferrucci said she co-conducted one of the “most important studies on aging ever conducted in the U.S. and in the world.”

The study conducted annual in-person interviews with 8,000 older Americans, gathering late-life-disability-trends data that is used by researchers across the country.

The former Judith Ann Dellinger, daughter of Myrl Dellinger, a banker, and his wife, Maxine E. Dellinger, a registered nurse, was born in Dodge City, Kansas, and was raised in Wilmore, Kansas, where she graduated from Coldwater High School.

“The town was so small — official population 99 — that for childhood amusement she and her sister would sit on the steps of the local bank and watch for a car, any car, to come rolling through the dirt streets,” wrote her husband and former Baltimore Sun food columnist, Robert W. “Rob” Kasper, in a biographical profile of his wife.

She later graduated with honors and distinction in 1970 from the University of Kansas with a double major in sociology and American studies. While at Kansas, she met and fell in love with Mr. Kasper, a classmate, who she married in 1971.

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The couple moved to Chicago to attend graduate school. She earned a master’s degree in 1973 and her Ph.D. in 1976 in sociology, both from the University of Chicago, and her husband earned a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University.

The couple lived in Hammond, Indiana, and Louisville, Kentucky, before coming to Maryland in 1977 when Mr. Kasper joined the staff of The Sun and Dr. Kasper held positions at the National Center for Health Services Research, now called the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality in North Bethesda, the Office of Health Care Financing Administration, and the Commonwealth Fund Commission on Elderly People Living Alone while conducting research on behalf of The Kaiser Foundation.

In 1987, Dr. Kasper joined Johns Hopkins and eventually became a full professor in the Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Department of Health Policy and Management.

In 2011, she launched a companion study, the National Study of Caregiving, which interviewed families and friends who assist older adults.

“I met her in the ’90s when she was working on the Women’s Health and Aging Study at Hopkins,” Dr. Ferrucci wrote. “Judith impressed me because she was studying caregiver’s stress, which is the burden that informal caregivers feel on them when caring for an older, disabled person, especially for somebody who is cognitively impaired.

“While today it is very clear that this is a huge problem with the progressive aging of the population and one that has not been addressed by society, she really was one of the first group of people that realized the size, severity and potential to expand of the problem,” he wrote.

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“There will be social and economic and cultural effects from the aging of the population,” Dr. Kasper explained in a 2011 Sun interview. “There’s not an easy single answer. Countries all over the world are recognizing this change, and trying to think about what the implications are.”

“For Judy, research was about the joy of solving complex puzzles that at the end of the day would make other people’s lives better,” wrote Dr. Freedman, research professor and director of the Michigan Center on the Demography of Aging Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, in an email.

“She was passionate about accurately capturing the daily experiences of older adults and their families so that policies and practices could be put into place to improve their lives. More than a colleague, Judy was also a generous mentor and friend to many who had the opportunity to work with her,” Dr. Freedman wrote.

At Hopkins, she taught and mentored graduate students on research techniques while serving on several internal boards, including the school’s Appointments and Promotions Committee where she was recognized for “running well-organized, efficient meetings,” her husband wrote.

Dr. Kasper was the author of numerous articles on aging research and lectured widely at schools of public health throughout the United States as well as in Taiwan and mainland China.

Dr. Kasper had not retired at her death.

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In her private life, Dr. Kasper was a well-known figure in her neighborhood where she had served as president of the Bolton Hill Swim and Tennis Club, and during her tenure oversaw the rebuilding of the pool and replaced the crack of the starting pistol used for races with an electronic one.

A lifelong pianist, she specialized in four-handed pieces in which she and a partner would sit at the keyboard and play favorite works by Haydn, Brahms, Schumann, William Bolcom and Darius Milhaud, her husband said. Often she and her partner would invite neighbors and friends to concerts played in the Kasper’s double parlor front rooms.

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Dr. Kasper, who was blessed with a quiet and soft Midwestern demeanor, was also known as a gracious host and a gourmet cook, who had a particular affinity for Italian food.

She also enjoyed gatherings of family and friends and on pre-pandemic New Year’s Eves presided over annual gatherings of neighbors who played several rounds of competitive charades — men against the women — and then adjourned to her dining room to feast on a tableful of desserts she made.

The evening would end with Dr. Kasper playing “Auld Lang Syne” to welcome in the new year.

She also liked making and freezing pesto and tomato sauce with fresh tomatoes that came from her husband’s vegetable garden.

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An avid and accomplished needlepointer, she regularly spent weekends fashioning intricate Christmas tree ornaments while watching golf matches on television and “calling out favorite golfers — ’Oh, Jordan!’ — when they missed a shot,” her husband said.

A memorial service for Dr. Kasper will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday at Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church at 1316 Park Ave. in Bolton Hill.

In addition to her husband, Dr. Kasper is survived by two sons, Matthew Kasper of Singapore and Michael Kasper of New York City; a sister, Jeanne Kapp of Tucson, Arizona; and three grandchildren.


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