Pamela Teaster is no stranger to the limelight when advocating for the rights of older adults. Last fall, for example, when media outlets such as The New Yorker, NPR, and the Huffington Post interviewed her, Teaster helped bring national attention to issues of fraudulent behavior among court-appointed guardians to defenseless older adults.

In addition, this spring she spoke before the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging to urge lawmakers to support measures providing oversight of legal guardianships in order to protect the rights of those in their care.

The National College of Probate Judges recently recognized Teaster’s research and advocacy by bestowing on her the Judge Isabella Horton Grant Guardianship Award.

Teaster, a professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Science and director of the Center for Gerontology, has a long history of serving the public interest in ensuring that older Americans receive protection from exploitation and abuse by those in positions of power or trust.

“Professor Teaster rightfully received the distinguished Isabella Award,” said Tamara Curry, president of the National College of Probate Judges, which works to promote efficient, fair, and just judicial administration in the probate courts. “Dr. Teaster is an innovative, groundbreaking problem solver in the area of guardianship. She has conducted national research that has assisted elders in regard to financial exploitation, neglect, and abuse. Her dedication to this population is immeasurable.”

Since 2011, the annual award, presented at the National College of Probate Judges spring conference, recognizes the achievements of leaders and innovators who effect positive change or improvements to guardianship laws. The award reflects the values of its namesake, Isabella Horton Grant, a pioneering lawyer and judge specializing in the fields of family law and probate law.

“Receiving this award is a huge honor,” Teaster said. “It is always nice to be recognized for a body of work that one hopes makes a difference and is a force for good in the world.”

Not only did Teaster help craft legislation in Virginia to begin programs of public guardianship, but she also assisted in selecting the first funded projects. In addition, she was a state resource for evaluating the outcomes.

The Retirement Research Foundation twice supported her national studies of public guardianship. She published her findings in a book, Elder Abuse and the Public’s Health, and went on to conduct studies in Florida, New York, and Massachusetts.

Teaster’s ongoing research focuses on the mistreatment of elders and vulnerable adults, public and private guardianship, end-of-life issues and decision-making, ethical treatment and human rights issues of vulnerable adults, and public affairs and policy. She is the coauthor or coeditor of four books and more than a hundred peer-reviewed articles, reports, and book chapters.

In addition to her scholarship, Teaster is on the editorial board of the Journal of Elder Abuse and Neglect. She is a fellow of both the Gerontological Society of America and the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education. She is an active board member and former president of the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse. She also serves as secretary on the Board of Trustees for the Center for Guardianship Certification and secretary general of the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse.

Before joining the Virginia Tech faculty, Teaster served as director of the Center for Gerontology and chair of the Department of Gerontology at the University of Kentucky, where she also served as director of the Ohio Valley Appalachia Regional Geriatric Education Center, director of doctoral studies, and associate dean for research at the College of Public Health. She founded the Kentucky Guardianship Association and was its first president. She also founded the Kentucky Justice Center for Elders and Vulnerable Adults.

Teaster received her doctorate in public administration and a graduate certificate in gerontology at Virginia Tech. Her master’s degree in speech and theatre and her bachelor’s in English education are both from the University of Tennessee.

The Center for Gerontology fosters and facilitates multidisciplinary research to enhance the quality of life for older adults through family gerontology, health and aging, and elder rights. Administratively housed in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, the center interacts with 28 departments or units across campus and includes 60 faculty affiliates.

Written by Leslie King