Professor Elaine Wethington, a medical sociologist who made meaningful contributions to translational research at Cornell, retired in December after more than 30 years at Cornell University.
Wethington was a professor of human development, sociology and gerontology in medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine and an associate director of the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research. She also served as a co-director and pilot core director of Cornell’s Edward R. Roybal Center, the Translational Research Institute on Pain in Later Life (TRIPLL).
Wethington’s research focused on social relationships and isolation among older adults and the role of stressful life events in affecting mental and physical health across the life course. She also conducted ground-breaking research on developing measures of stressor exposure throughout her career.
“Elaine Wethington has been deeply engaged in the Bronfenbrenner Center since its inception, and her contributions range from garnering large grants, to mentoring countless students, to building bridges between Cornell’s Ithaca Campus and our Medical School in Manhattan,” said Karl Pillemer, professor of human development and gerontology and senior associate dean for research and outreach in the College of Human Ecology. “In addition, she has made major scientific contributions in a number of areas, including discovering better ways of linking research to solve problems in real-world settings. There are not many of us who deserve the term ‘irreplaceable,’ but Elaine is one of them.”
Wethington was known particularly for her interdisciplinary work. Over the course of her career, she held a variety of leadership and research positions at the College of Human Ecology and centers across Cornell. She is the author or co-author of four books. The most recent, Research for the Public Good: Applying the Methods of Translational Research to Improve Human Health and Well Being, demonstrates how social and behavioral scientists can use translational research methods to inform public policy and practice.
“I have had the fortune to work with Elaine for the past 15 years, and I would describe her as a masterful mentor and collaborator,” said Dr. Cary Reid, a professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine and director of TRIPLL. “She provides supportive feedback in a timely way. She is a team player in the truest sense of the word. She has exceptional abilities to see connections across disciplines, thereby enhancing the breadth of the work.”
BCTR Director Christopher Wildeman said Wethington’s personal qualities and dedication to her work helped advance the field of translational research.
“Elaine in many ways exemplifies what we hope the BCTR is and will continue be – smart, tough, fair and engaged in the weeds of the world in order to improve both the world and academic research,” he said. “Although we wish her well, losing her is absolutely devastating for us. She is, simply put, someone who cannot be replaced.”
Wethington joined Cornell in 1987 as assistant professor of human development. Over the course of her tenure at the university, she has served as acting director and co-director of the Bronfenbrenner Life Course Center, co-director of the Cornell Gerontology Research Institute, associate director and acting director of the BCTR and co-director of the Translational Research Institute on Pain in Later Life. She served on the Cornell Institutional Review Board for Human Participant Research from 1995 until her retirement, chairing the committee from 2000 to 2006. She has also been the recipient of numerous teaching and advising awards at the university.
“I am very grateful for the support of my colleagues in Human Development, Sociology, and Weill Cornell Medicine,” she said. “I also drew inspiration from the students of Cornell University. Their enthusiasm for the work that I and other researchers on the sociology of health and aging has been a constant source of inspiration for me since I began teaching here.”