Rob Romasco '69 to join Lynch, Altman and Kotlikoff for Heller forum

Rob Romasco

Rob Romasco ’69 returns this week to Brandeis, a place he credits for shaping his career through its emphasis on social justice, robust intellectual debate and diversity of thought.

Romasco, the president of AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons), will participate in the James J. Callahan Jr., PhD ’68, Memorial Lecture – “Medicare and Social Security: Who Wins and Who Loses in Entitlement Reform?” – at 5 p.m. April 23 in the Zinner Forum at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management.

He will join Heller Dean Lisa Lynch, PhD, the Maurice B. Hexter Professor of Social and Economic Policy; former Heller Dean Stuart Altman, PhD, the Sol C. Chaikin Professor of National Health Policy; and Boston University Professor Laurence Kotlikoff, PhD, for a discussion about one of the biggest public-policy issues of the day.

The event is free and open to the public.

The Callahan Lecture honors a beloved Heller professor, mentor and friend who died on Oct. 12, 2010. James Callahan served as Heller’s acting dean from 1990-92 and held high-level positions in state government, including service as commissioner of mental health, 1983-85, and secretary of elder affairs, 1977-79.

Romasco serves as AARP’s primary volunteer spokesperson, but he says his job description could more accurately be described as “chief listener.” He visited 20 states and logged 60,000 miles in his first six months on the job – hearing about the lives of people over 50 to determine how AARP can best serve and advocate for their needs.

“It’s not just about Social Security and Medicare,” Romasco says. “It’s about understanding this chapter of peoples’ lives, our journey from age 50 on.”

Romasco received the call to join AARP in late December 2005, when he was senior vice president of home-shopping giant QVC.

“After I got off the phone with AARP, my wife asked me a question, ‘Years from now, what will you regret more, not being part of AARP or not selling another 10,000 pieces of costume jewelry?’” Romasco says. “It became a pretty easy decision.”

The decision was fortified by a near-death experience on a desolate Canadian lake. “That was a pretty sobering moment,” Romasco says of his August 2005 boating accident. Badly hurt, but rescued by three young men who spotted his empty boat, Romasco began rethinking his priorities. “When I was going down under the water for the third time, I was convinced my life was over. I received a gift. I said to myself, ‘What am I going to do with this gift?’ ”

With this perspective, Romasco accepted the invitation to join the all-volunteer board of directors of AARP in 2006. Last year he began a two-year term as president of the powerful 55-year-old organization, which advocates for people 50 and over.

Romasco, who grew up in nearby Watertown, Mass., has special memories of his days as a Brandeis student during the 1960s. His profound gratitude to Brandeis is due not only to the intellectual experience, but also by the investment the university chose to make in him. In addition to working three jobs, Brandeis’ scholarship made receiving a first-class education possible. He majored in history, served as a residence hall counselor and broadcast the men’s basketball team’s games on campus radio station WBRS.

“It was a very full experience and one I would never trade,” says Romasco, who was the first member of his family to attend college. “It was an introduction to a whole different world. Everybody was smart and highly intellectual.

“At Brandeis, you had to be prepared to have your views challenged. When I started at Brandeis, I thought we (the United States) were doing the right thing in Vietnam. I was exposed to different social and political views.”

With an assist from Trustee emeritus David Squire, who was then Brandeis’ vice president for administration, Romasco also established the Student Service Bureau to coordinate and license student businesses. “I was the only capitalist on campus,” he says with a laugh.

After graduation, Romasco built a regional public opinion polling firm. He later graduated from Harvard Business School, and went on to work in senior positions at CIGNA, J.C. Penney Insurance and American Century Investments before joining QVC as senior vice president of customer, distribution and new business development.

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