“Aging is Living.” The Couple Working on Several Fronts to Confront a Graying America

2 min
February 23, 2019
This article about Gary and Mary West was written by Caitlin Reilly and by Inside Philanthropy on February 23, 2019.

The over-65 population is the fastest-growing demographic in America, according to the United States Census Bureau, yet few foundations dedicate themselves to working on behalf of this group. Frustrated with this dynamic, Gary and Mary West are pursuing community-, state- and national-level change through their foundation, research institute and policy center.

The couple made their money through West Corporation, a private telecommunications provider based in Omaha, Nebraska. In 2006, the Wests sold their shares of the company for $1.4 billion. That was when they turned their sights on philanthropy, founding the Gary and Mary West Foundation.

The couple, then in their 60s, set about finding a cause.

“They were clear that they weren’t going to write 200 checks for $25,000 apiece for any organization that pulled on their heartstrings,” said Shelley Lyford, the foundation’s president and CEO.

They wanted to be much more strategic. They really wanted to focus in on areas where they could make an impact in their lifetime.”

Shelley Lyford
President & CEO, West Health

The Wests settled on aging.

“They had several very personal experiences in caring for their own parents,” Lyford said. The experience opened up for them the emotional, mental and financial toll of caring for an aging family member can take.

“Listen, they’re billionaires. They could make a call to whomever they needed to call in the United States to get the best care for their parents, the best care coordination. They could have help navigating the healthcare system. They could have in-home help,” said Lyford. “They took this on. They’re very smart, very savvy, and they were completely overwhelmed.”
“It was an eye-opening experience of what families go through as we age, and as we enter the final years of life in America,” Lyford said. “It was those very personal experiences that drove them to want to focus their philanthropy in aging.”