Asuman Kiyak, a psychologist with a specialty in gerontology, advocated for the elderly as a professor in the School of Dentistry and adjunct professor in the University of Washington departments of psychology and architecture.
Last Wednesday, about 70 people stood in a University of Washington room overlooking Portage Bay to mark the closing of the Institute on Aging due to budget cuts.
One key person was missing: Professor Asuman Kiyak, the institute’s director, who was too ill to attend.
The students, health-care workers and faculty turned it into an occasion to honor Professor Kiyak, 59, who died of cancer two days later.
Born in Turkey, she came to the United States with her parents in 1957 when she was 6. Her career was focused on improving the care of the elderly.
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Her legacy also includes community outreach projects such as a mobile dental clinic serving low-income elderly people in the Puget Sound region.
Since 1977, her career at the UW spanned multiple, seemingly unrelated academic departments.
A psychologist with a specialty in gerontology, she was a professor in the School of Dentistry as well as an adjunct professor in the UW departments of psychology and architecture.
She taught dental students how to work effectively with aging adults, mindful of the full range of physical, psychological, social and cultural problems they faced.
She taught architecture students how to design homes for elderly people.
“Everything she did was oriented to improving the quality of life for older adults,” said Nancy Hooyman, dean emeritus at the UW School of Social Work and a colleague.
Lynn Wang, program coordinator at the Institute for Aging, said Professor Kiyak’s “eclectic interests” helped further that goal.
“She was always trying to reach out to the public to make them aware that the older population is growing and we’re really not including them as valued people,” said Wang.
Dan Murphy, a staff member at the dentistry school whom Professor Kiyak took under her wing when he was an undergraduate, worked as a coordinator for the mobile health clinic she set up in 2001.
The clinic moves from one community center to another, dispensing dental care to older people who cannot afford private health insurance. Many of the dental patients are disabled. Some cannot speak English.
UW dental students provide the care.
Due to Medicaid cuts, the clinic had to take a break for some months last winter, but this summer will go out again to centers in Pierce and Snohomish counties, which will provide some subsidy funding.
Professor Kiyak was the driving force in the political project of raising money and finding volunteer instructors to make the clinic a reality.
“She was in charge of all the advocacy and fundraising and much of the organization,” Murphy said. “I would call her fiery when it came to advocacy for the community and for these elders.”
Professor Kiyak’s boundless energy was evident also in her personal life.
Her younger sister, Ayda Koprulu, recalled that one day after Professor Kiyak had surgery for breast cancer three years ago, she walked at such a fast pace around Green Lake that Koprulu could barely keep up.
Nancy McPike, of Chicago, became a close friend of Professor Kiyak after their families met years ago at a Club Med vacation in Mexico.
“She was exciting to be with. She was fun to be around,” McPike said. “Our love was sealed in a mud bath near Dalyan, Turkey, as we laughed ourselves silly and smeared each other with hand-dug clay, to the embarrassment of our husbands and the horror of our children.”
Last summer, McPike and another female friend joined Professor Kiyak on a 3,000-mile road trip from Seattle to Richmond, Va., delivering a car to her daughter, who had just enrolled in graduate school.
“We had so much fun,” McPike said.
The day before Professor Kiyak died, she heard secondhand the comments about her from Wednesday’s celebration of the Institute on Aging.
“I was glad she was able to hear the wonderful things people said about her,” said her colleague Hooyman. “She was a very, very caring, compassionate and highly principled person.”
Professor Kiyak’s husband, Joe Clark, a former UW professor and science-education innovator, died in April 2010.
She is survived by a daughter, Lara K. Clark, of Seattle; stepdaughters Kimberlee Clark-Ishii, of Honolulu, and Kirsten Clark, of Reno; and in Turkey, her sister, Ayda Koprulu; a brother, Ahmet Kiyak; and nieces Ece Koprulu, Defne Icyer and Funda Gokbakan.
Donations in memory of Professor Kiyak may be made to the arts organizations whose performances she rarely missed: the Seattle Symphony, Seattle Opera and Pacific Northwest Ballet, or to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.
Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963