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Robert J. Myers: Honoring a Voice That Is Missed

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This week, the Social Security Administration will name a boulevard on its Woodlawn campus, west of Baltimore, after a man who contributed enormously to the creation and development of Social Security. Robert J. Myers began working on Social Security in 1934 -- the year before Social Security was enacted. He served as its Chief Actuary from 1947 to 1969. And he remained active in Social Security policymaking in and out of government well into his 90's.

Presidents and Members of Congress in both parties considered themselves fortunate to have the expertise of Bob Myers available to them at critical moments in the development of Social Security. Indeed, the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan labeled him "a national treasure."

Both of us had the good fortune to work closely with this brilliant, soft-spoken, dedicated public servant. To be working on a day to day basis with such a giant in the field of Social Security was both an honor and a privilege.

Bob was a man of deep and intense principles. Everyone who knew him knew that he was a man of the highest integrity. These qualities are what made him so successful, in addition to his sheer intelligence and work ethic. For seven decades, Bob was an important participant in national debates of the government's role in creating and maintaining Social Security as the bedrock of financial security for American families.

Bob was committed to a Social Security program that would deliver on its promises. He was completely trusted by both sides of the political aisle. Though he had strong views, he knew how to be objective and he valued accuracy. Though a Republican for most of his life, Democrats and Republicans alike knew he was a straight shooter, and they trusted his numbers and explanations implicitly and completely.

Bob understood the importance of numbers that everyone could trust. He set the highest ethical and professional standard for the Office of the Actuary at the Social Security Administration, a standard all of his successors have aspired to match.

Always generous with his time, Bob had an open door policy. We took advantage of that generosity and spent hours and hours in his office where he regaled us with fascinating stories about the early days of the program and where he also explained in careful and intricate detail how certain provisions of Social Security came about, how an arcane part of Social Security worked, or how a particular senator's concern had led to some odd compromise in the law. His knowledge was encyclopedic; truly unparalleled.

Bob was not just generous with us. He always willingly and meticulously reviewed, with his omnipresent thick black marker, any writing of any scholar, journalist, or student of the program who asked (and sometimes those who did not ask). It didn't matter whether the person was well known or not, whether Bob agreed with the point of view or not; he was interested in making sure that the facts of Social Security formed the basis of all debates.

Bob would have surely been appalled today at prominent politicians describing the program he helped create, as a "Ponzi scheme." He would have certainly been perturbed when politicians referred to Social Security's trust fund investments as "just IOUs." He would have carefully explained that Social Security's assets are invested in Treasury bonds backed by the full faith and credit of the United States, the safest and most secure investment on Earth. Indeed, if alive today, he and his black pen would be very busy!

Though most Americans are unaware of the name Bob Myers, the entire nation has benefited from his dedicated, invaluable service which he gave so willingly, so generously, and so well. The economic security of Americans is greater and their lives are better because of his life.

We can only hope that those dealing with Social Security today aspire to Bob's high level of integrity and expertise.

He was a giant -- to those of us lucky enough to have known him and have worked with him, and to all Americans whose lives are made more secure by Social Security.

Suzanne Blouin is retired after a thirty-five year career dedicated to Social Security. Nancy Altman is the author of The Battle for Social Security and co-directs Social Security Works.