In Memoriam: Pamela Larson

Our beloved Pam Larson has passed away after a lengthy illness. Pamela Larson led the Academy for its first 28 years, first as Executive Vice President after the Academy began operations in 1987, then as our first Chief Executive Officer before her retirement in 2015. For the many Academy Members who knew Pam well – she embodied the spirit of the Academy. Pam had a heart of gold, opened it to everyone, and approached her work with dedication and passion. She worked tirelessly to fulfill the Academy’s mission and vision.

After visiting Pam in Minnesota last December to give her a photo collage of memorable Academy moments, Academy Member Laurel Beedon wrote:

“Pam was a dear friend who made a difference in my life and in the lives of so many others. I will always remember her smile, her singing, her pitching in, her willingness to reach out, and her, ‘We can do this’ attitude. Hers is a life to celebrate. So Pam, ‘Here’s to you!’”

A photo of Pam Larson smiling at a podium surrounded by many Academy Members and friends.

Among Pam’s many invaluable contributions was her deep commitment to our Members, Associate Members and Interns, Board, and her staff. For decades, Pam sought to know each Academy Member and involve us in meaningful ways in the Academy’s broad range of activities.

In collaboration with Pam’s family, the Academy will be launching a Pamela Larson Legacy Program to honor Pam’s foundational support for the Academy and the many ways she touched our personal and professional lives.

In the coming days and weeks, we will provide a comprehensive look at all that Pam meant to all of us, and we invite you to help pay tribute to her lasting legacy.

On a personal note, this is the most difficult obituary I’ve written over the last six years. Pam provided great support to me when I succeeded her as the Academy’s CEO. I remain inspired to continue the culture of inclusivity and supportive collaboration that she established.

The goodwill that Pam generated on the Academy’s behalf is the core of her legacy and an inspiration for us all.

Please share your reflections on Pam’s impact by commenting below or by email at

May she rest in peace.

– William Arnone, CEO

Posted on: August 16, 2022


  1. Jennie Chin Hansen August 16, 2022 at 5:57 pm - Reply

    I am both stunned and ever so saddened to learn of Pam’s passing. I had the privilege to spend many years with her during my active career and all that has been written about her is so true. She so loved her work and the Academy’s vital mission. And she was one of the kindest and most humble people I have met in the field. She took such delight in assuring the pipeline of our future talent of social insurance. I am glad she had some time to enjoy her family upon her retirement but we clearly have lost her way too soon. Our field owes much to this gentle giant. Our hearts go out to her family.

  2. Rich Hobbie August 16, 2022 at 7:37 pm - Reply

    As a member of the NASI Board of Directors for 8 years and Treasurer for about 6 years, I had the honor and pleasure of working with Pam Larson and the NASI staff in many meetings on spending, financing, strategic planning, promoting membership, supporting members, and planning and participating in NASI’s outstanding conferences. Pam loved NASI and it always showed in her dedication, work, and interaction with members. Pam’s contributions to NASI are truly immeasurable.
    Condolences to her family, friends, and former colleagues.

  3. Michael Gluck August 17, 2022 at 7:03 am - Reply

    Although more than a generation younger than the founders of NASI, Pam embodied the idealism, pragmatism and passion that gave us the social insurance system we enjoy today. The optimism, compassion, and “can-do” work ethic of her Minnesota DFW roots made Pam the perfect choice to lead NASI through its first three decades. During my time on the NASI staff in the 1990s and early 2000s, Pam became a close friend and neighbor in Takoma Park. Like NASI, Takoma Park is a community that so aptly reflects Pam’s ideals and personality. It’s through Pam that I discovered the Takoma Park Music Festival, which gave the opportunity to marry her talents at organizing with her passion for music. The news of her passing is a shock, and it deeply saddens me.

  4. Carson Beadle August 17, 2022 at 9:12 am - Reply

    Pam had a sweeping view of her job and of NASI that encompassed all views with equal value. That is no small accomplishment in this increasing divided country. Her steady
    hand and smiling face will be missed by every one of us.
    Carson Beadle

  5. Nancy Gorshe August 17, 2022 at 3:03 pm - Reply

    It is complete sadness to lose Pam! She was an amazing, creative coworker at the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging! She was a lover of her son, her life, travel, music, soccer and so much more. She was a provocative professional and an active advocate for the us all. Peace Pam!

  6. Lisa Mensah August 17, 2022 at 5:05 pm - Reply

    Thank you Bill for the beautiful tribute. I have deep gratitude to Pam Larson for her leadership of NASI through the thick and the thin. No detail was beneath her, and no vision of the potential of social insurance was too grand to deserve our collective work and hope. I will remember Pam’s laughter, conviction and delight in the past work and her hope in the next generation. Pam always said she was surprised when Bob Ball asked her to lead. Bob saw that NASI would need someone who would wake up each day and make us all better. Pam was this person. Rest in Peace dear Pam. Rest in Peace. Our love and gratitude abound for your life and work.

  7. Alban P. August 17, 2022 at 6:31 pm - Reply

    I am truly saddened to learn about Pam’s passing away! Utterly sad and can’t lie such a big loss for her family, us who knew Pam and had her as a great friend, NASI and the rest of the DC area, US,, and the world. I had a few doubts when I applied for the Nathan J. Stark Internship for Non-Profit Development in 2007 while I was studying at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in DC. But, as NASI offices were super close to SAIS and the moment I met the AWESOME PAM – her smile, love, compassion, energy, interest, creativity, thurst to help out, desire to do good, and just plain awesomeness, as well as including some of the amazing NASI staff like Jill and Virginia– I was like, sold. I’m gonna do this internship! Those several weeks I spent working along PAM not only did I learn a great deal about the complexities of the US public policy making and processes, including numerous visits to the US Congress as well as exposure to so many other important things and activities (Robert M. Ball; Liaising and helping with the Ford Foundation, etc) BUT I GOT TO ADD A WONDERFUL LIFE FRIEND TO MY CIRCLE OF CLOSE FAMILY LIKE FRIENDS. I even went a few times at her lovely house. PAM, always kept in touch and I did so but lately with these Covid realities and being overseas, sadly I had lost touch, and receiving this sad news was extremely hard to swallow. My dearest PAM, I am 100% sure you’re roaming and floating freely in the cosmos as if there’s something beyond, whatever it is you MUST have a priority seat. I’m extra bummed we never managed to have you come visit me in Kosovo and Albania, and to explore this non-US American homeland of mine together. I was so eager to have you here!!! Alas, may you rest in peace Pam. Sincere condolences to all of Pam’s family, friends, and everyone she touched in NASI and elsewhere. You will never ever cease to exist and be close in my heart and other hearts you touched. Love, Alban.

  8. Ishita Sengupta August 18, 2022 at 9:27 am - Reply

    Pam will always hold a special place in my heart! I had the honor of working in NASI for 11 years under her leadership. It was my first job in this country after graduate school. I had learned a lot from her but most importantly as an immigrant, I would immensely value her inclusive attitude way before it was considered the norm. Pam was very open to ideas and also a very encouraging mentor. Rest in peace Pam! You will be sorely missed.

  9. Wayne H Sherwood August 18, 2022 at 4:45 pm - Reply

    I was Pam’s next-door neighbor in Takoma Park for over 30 years. I never heard an unkind word from her. She always looked at the positive side of things and at what CAN be done, not can’t. She was indomitable. And so much fun. She loved her dear young friend Cedric Davis. She loved all of us in the neighborhood and brought smiles to everyone’s faces. She loved the Takoma Park Folk Festival. She was a soccer coach and loved the TP soccer community and the city’s recreation programs. She loved singing in the DC Labor Chorus. She loved going for walks. She engaged in a painting class at the Takoma Park community center. I enjoyed hanging out in her kitchen sometimes while she experimented with making something new for dinner, as she talked and shared her love of life and of people. When I felt grouchy or pessimistic about something, she would cheer even me up, which, believe me, could be a real feat.

  10. Laura Larson September 2, 2022 at 2:39 pm - Reply

    It fills my heart to read this obituary and wonderful comments about my dear friend and cousin, Pam. I knew her as a cousin and travel partner, not as the director of your esteemed organization. I know she was devoted to it and I believe it was the perfect fit for her talents and expertise. We enjoyed many great times together, being only about three weeks apart in age. She was a great travel partner, always ready for the next adventure. She opened my mind to social justice issues, as someone else said, long before it was in the spotlight as it is today. I am so sad to have lost my friend and closest cousin. I thank everyone for their appreciation and love of the professional side of her life, which I didn’t really know.

  11. Patricia Wilson September 11, 2022 at 1:02 pm - Reply

    I met Pam in 1975 at Cornell when she was in the Masters Program in City and Regional Planning and I was a novice professor having just completed my doctorate there. Before long she had me participating in street theater in Ithaca ! We stayed warm friends, coinciding in Washington DC for a year where she became the first babysitter for my new born daughter. Pam subsequently befriended my daughter again when she studied at Georgetown two decades later. Pam made a point of coming to Austin TX to visit my partner and me from time to time. She stopped here on her way to Central America with the Peace Corps. Such a laughing good time we had together! We didn’t know it would be our last time to see her. Thank you, Pam, for spreading joy and touching our hearts.

  12. October 1, 2022 at 11:04 am - Reply

    On this date thirty-five years ago (October 1, 1987), the Academy hired Pam Larson as our first Executive Director. Her extraordinary dedication and self-less leadership helped build a vibrant, trustworthy, and impactful Academy. We will soon be announcing a legacy program in her honor. Stay tuned for more details. –Bill Arnone, Chief Executive Officer

  13. Raymond Mastalish October 9, 2022 at 2:33 pm - Reply

    I can only echo the comments already made – Pam came into my life when I hired her at the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (N4A) in Washington, DC. As with other staff, we all bonded as evidenced in carrying fond memories of those years of working together. Pam was one of a kind as I remember her – down to earth approach to life; a great sense of humor; smart; ethical hard worker; always willing to step in to assist as needed; exemplary customer service in dealing with our 600+ members; and a true professional. When Pam decided to move on to NASI, while feeling a loss at N4A, she could not have made a better move professionally as a national leader in the field of aging policy. While we did not keep in close touch over the past years, one of our last times together is when she visited us in Palm Springs, CA. To me, the picture posted with her “Celebration of Life” announcement perfectly portrays who she was – a wholesome, straight forward person. Unfortunately, someone taken from us far too soon. I will always cherish having known Pam and wish I could be at the celebration. I wanted to share my thoughts and support to her family and friends.
    Ray Mastalish, Former Executive Director, National Association of Area Agencies on Aging

  14. Larry DeWitt, Social Security Administration—retired October 19, 2022 at 1:39 pm - Reply

    For several years Pam invited me to be a guest lecturer for the summer student intern orientation program. It was always a professional and personal pleasure. Pam always made me feel appreciated and her personal warmth and friendliness made these occasions welcoming. She always said she needed to attend one of my talks to find out how I managed to make the interns laugh out loud about Social Security’s history. Although I hadn’t seen her in several years, I still feel a sense of loss from her passing.

  15. Susan Gail October 22, 2022 at 10:34 pm - Reply

    How appropriate to be writing of Pam’s impact on this world this week. This is her first birthday in heaven. She smiled and brought joy all through her life; imagine what joy she is experiencing now!
    My husband and I first met Pam in Panama. She showed up at our door unexpectedly because she had heard we were expats newly arrived from the USA. She was a total delight from the minute we met her. We spent that winter enjoying her company , exploring and doing every day things in Panama.
    That summer she visited us in Iowa. She and I galavanted all over the area visiting local sights. Then back in Panama she stayed with us a month and we took a trip together up to Santa Fe on the local buses. We also got to horseback ride and play in the rocky stream. So beautiful.

    We knew she was there as a Peace Corps volunteer and spoke a lot about her work there and in Washington DC. But we all were just enjoying retired life. We saw the beginning of her affliction there and spoke of its mystery. We were glad she was able to move back to Minnesota and be with family. She called us, even as it got more difficult for her.
    What a bright light she was. Interested in everything. Optimistic. Joyful. We are so grateful we got to enjoy life with her. We miss her. Her light will never dim for us.

  16. Lori L. Hansen January 6, 2023 at 3:36 pm - Reply

    Pam Larsen

    Pam Larsen was one of the finest people one could ever hope to know — as a friend, a colleague, a community member. She was warm, kind, thoughtful, genuine, compassionate, passionate, dedicated, strong, steady, encouraging, embracing, and saw the best in others. Pam’s leadership of the National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI) is a highly significant professional legacy to leave the country. Pam’s personal example to all who were her friends, family and colleagues is the legacy she leaves to those who knew her. She showed us how to do both the professional and personal so well, while making us feel good about ourselves at the same time. Pam helped us see what we could contribute, how we could join together with others committed to social insurance, how to be inclusive and recognize the good in others. Her life was too short, but she made the most of every day she had — with her enthusiasm for living and that megawatt smile of hers.

    I consider myself fortunate to have been one of the first to meet Pam when she became the Executive Director of the Academy. In the earliest days as NASI was established, Bob Ball asked me to consider taking this position. It was very difficult to have to tell Bob that personal obligations on the immediate horizon kept me from being able to say yes. I didn’t think I could give this new organization the time and energy it needed, and what it deserved, to become the nonprofit, nonpartisan, educational, research organization that was envisioned. Instead, I offered to help whomever they found to take the job.

    It wasn’t too long before Bob asked me to come to the Academy’s new office to meet with the woman he and Alicia Munnell, the new NASI Board Chair, had hired. Not far from Union Station and barely in the boundaries, at least then, of Capitol Hill, the office was located at 505 Capitol St. NE. The office space was long and narrow with a window at one end that looked out at the alley behind the building. It was unimpressive and modest to say the least, and Alicia was on the hunt for bargain antique desks that might add a little character to the space. Pam’s presence, smile, upbeat character and can do attitude were immediately clear that day in October 1987. Although Pam was not an expert in social insurance, her prior work with the area agencies on aging and her commitment to senior issues provided her with the policy and management skills needed to head up NASI. I liked her immediately — although who wouldn’t like Pam?!

    Pam was the perfect person to serve as Executive Director of NASI and she proved that every day.

    Pam and I became colleagues dedicated to the Academy and its mission, and we also became good friends. About the same age, we greatly appreciated working with and being mentored by Bob Ball and Elizabeth Wickenden whose vision led to the creation of the Academy. These two great American public servants understood the important role that experts on social insurance could play in helping to educate the public and the Congress on the core principles of social insurance and the need for its benefits in our society. In these earliest days of the Academy, Elizabeth Wickenden’s support through the Study Group on Social Security, and the support of the Field Foundation under the leadership of Justine Wise Polier, were critical to launching NASI. Of course, Elizabeth (“Wicky”) loved Pam too.

    Getting NASI off the ground and running was a daunting task, but Pam met it with her attitude that nothing was undoable. Throughout those early years, Pam and I discussed many, many aspects of the Academy’s mission and purpose, and how to accomplish them. Pam was doing the work, she was the leader, but she had no hesitation to seek advice and wanted to hear and learn whatever she could that would help guide her. This was one of her greatest strengths — listening to others, her willingness to share the credit, accomplishing the goal without having to claim it as her own.

    Washington, DC is a place filled with highly educated and credentialed people, many of whom have very large egos and seek to be in the spotlight. This was not Pam (although she had the education and credentials). She was committed to getting the work done and then was satisfied knowing her accomplishments, without calling attention to them.

    One of the core missions of NASI is public understanding and an annual conference was one of the first avenues pursued to provide information on key social insurance issues. The first conference was held in 1988 with its focus on Social Security and the Federal Budget. The goal was to bring together experts to illuminate the topic and different points of view for Congressional staff, the media, academics, and the advocacy community. Much work went into the development of the early annual conferences — the topics, the speakers, the discussants, the focus of the round tables, the format, the costs associated with holding it. The NASI staff was tiny in number, but under Pam’s leadership, the conferences were a success from the beginning.

    Another early focus was raising the funding needed to carry out the Academy’s mission. Seeking grants from foundations for research, study groups, special projects and ongoing operations was a constant requirement. Somehow Pam managed to always bring a fresh perspective to this work, again seeking out others who might have insights, connections or the willingness to assist in the ongoing search for funding that would line up with the Academy’s purpose and principles. We had many discussions on this topic over nearly her entire time leading NASI, as she must have with many other Academy members. I greatly admired her ability to be unfailingly optimistic, enthusiastic and tireless in the search for funding.

    During the first year of the Academy, Elizabeth Wickenden transferred the sponsorship of the Update that had been published by the Study Group on Social Security to NASI. As the policy analyst for the Academy and author of the Update’s Legislative Developments, I now had two new editors — Pam and Robert J. Myer, former Chief Actuary and Deputy Commissioner of Social Security. Over the ensuing eight years, Pam (representing both Bob and herself) and I never had a disagreement or difficulty regarding the reporting in the newsletter. Pam always made it easy to agree to any changes that needed to be made.

    The Update was an important vehicle for enhancing public understanding of social insurance and the legislative developments impacting it. Before one could “Google” information on just about anything, there were limited resources for finding out what legislative action Congress might be taking. Unless one was able to watch the Senate and House floors on C-Span all day, or had subscriptions to the Congressional Record, CQ (the Congressional Quarterly), the National Journal, the Washington Post and the New York Times, or had a job doing legislative reporting, there were not many other ways for organizations, citizens, academics to understand what social insurance legislative actions were occurring. The Update’s Legislative Developments served that purpose. As it turned out, the publication of it coincided with one of the most active periods of legislative action on Social Security, as was true for its coverage of Medicare and Medicaid, and Unemployment Insurance. Pam recognized the importance of the Update in furthering public understanding of social insurance and gave her strong support to it through the most critical years.

    In 1995, my family moved back to our home state of Michigan and I no longer worked as a policy analyst for NASI. Pam occasionally called on me to help on one project or another as a consultant. This continued after we moved back to DC in 2001. For the next dozen years, Pam would find ways that we could work together. I was very honored that she asked me to co-chair the 26th annual conference, “Strengthening the Web of Financial and Retirement Security for Today’s Working Americans” in 2014.

    We also made sure to get together for lunch on occasion. At these times, we would catch up on NASI developments, but mostly we shared our personal joys and occasional disappointments and sorrows. Pam was always steadfast, empathetic, kind and optimistic. It was a comfort to be in her presence and know she would protect our friendship.

    About the same time that Pam decided to move on to the next chapter in her life, my family responsibilities as daughter, wife and mother required my attention as serious health issues arose. I failed to stay in touch with Pam as I should have, and did not know of her health challenges. This is on me and something I regret deeply. Given Pam’s wide circle of friends and her loving family, it is comforting to know that she was connected to them.

    When fact checking my memory for this Memorium, by opening a NASI file box of documents, I found a small unmarked envelope which turned out to contain notes my late mother had prepared for leading women’s fellowship meetings at her church. There is no reason this should have been with my NASI records, but I was so pleased to find it. I smiled because I knew it was a gift from Pam and that she took delight in its discovery.

    This morning I happened to select a meditation to listen to on loving kindness. It became clear to me that Pam was loving kindness — she embodied it, lived it and proved that one can practice loving kindness and leave a meaningful legacy. Pam continues to be missed and lives on for those of us blessed to have known her and enjoyed a friendship with her. Thank you, Pam, for all your good works and sharing your exemplary life with us.

    Lori L. Hansen
    Founding Member, NASI

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