LET’S CELEBRATE THE OVER-SEVENTIES.
Having always been a champion of the skills, talents and societal contributions of older generations, I recently enjoyed one of my favourite afternoons of the year. It was so uplifting, I have decided to write about it. As Mark Twain said ‘age is an issue of mind over matter, if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter’. That is so true. And a perfect example of this was revealed the other day when, thanks to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I had the honour to present the Times/Sternberg Active Life Awards at 11 Downing Street.
With new data showing record numbers of over-70s in the workforce, working life is being redefined. We need to overcome ageist attitudes to work and activity in later life as aging is not strictly governed by chronology. Many people are not ‘too old to work’ just because they reach a certain age and these awards recognise the contributions of people over age 70 who still lead active lives that benefit society and humanity.
Meeting these amazing people – in their 80s and 90s – was so inspirational. Too few of us know about the huge contribution to society and global good causes made, day in and day out, by our older citizens. We should be really proud of their achievements. With so much commentary pitting younger generations against retirees who are seen as having been unreasonably fortunate to have good pensions and homes, or criticising them as a drain on national resources, these award winners can help overcome inter-generational strife. Highlighting the reality of their contribution in so many fields is very important.
So let me summarise their achievements and you can see for yourself why it is wrong to believe people over any particular age cannot work or contribute to society.
Here are their stories – enjoy reading about these tremendous over-70s and congratulations to them all!:
Sonya Hinton is 83 years young – a devoted wife, mother and grandmother of 7. She had a long career as an educational psychologist but did not stop ‘working’ when she retired. She pursued her passion for improving early-learning by volunteering as an adviser to Sabre Education – a charity developing transformational teacher training programmes for children in Ghana. Proving that age is no barrier, she has travelled to Ghana 17 times in the last 4 years. She has helped train around 1000 teachers and tens of thousands of children, winning a UNESCO prize for this ground breaking work. A marvellous story of older generations helping give poor children a better start in life.
David Maidment, OBE, who has turned 81, was a consultant on railways in his working life. When travelling in Mumbai he visited train stations and came across vulnerable youngsters living rough and having to beg to survive. He was so distressed by their plight that he determined to help. So he founded a charity called ‘Railway Children’ which has already helped over 300,000 children world-wide. He writes railway books and donates all the royalties to his charity and has chaired the UK Consortium of Street Children for ten years. And his good work does not stop there. He chaired Amnesty International UK’s Children’s Human Rights network for 20 years and he is heavily involved with his Church, working as a street pastor through many nights. As one of his colleagues observed ‘his commitment, positivity and determination are an inspiration’. Quite so!
Edith Oakley, age 99, will soon reach her hundredth birthday but still carries on her lifelong charity work. She was born in Radlett and is an inspirational local figure who is deeply involved in the work of cancer research charity Bloodwise. Around 60 years ago, Edith’s 9-year-old son John passed away after developing leukaemia. Soon after, Edith founded a local branch of Bloodwise, determined to help find a cure for blood cancers. She has undoubtedly helped contribute to its success. The research led to a revolutionary new treatment – chemotherapy – first developed for blood cancer. The impact has been enormous. In 1960, 9 in 10 children with blood cancer died. Now, 8 in 10 survive. And, in fact, this first chemotherapy subsequently led to new chemotherapies for other cancers, so anyone who has survived cancer thanks to chemotherapy has been indirectly helped by Edith’s work. She is an amazing example and came to collect her award in person, showing little sign of her advanced age.
Patricia Parker MBE is another example of the irrelevance of age. She is founder and CEO of ‘Kids For Kids’. Her motto is ‘we don’t believe in charity. We believe in helping people to help themselves’. After receiving an MBE for charity work, including as a Marie Curie Cancer Care volunteer, Patricia visited Darfur in Sudan. She saw the almost unimaginable plight of malnourished children, walking 14 hours a day to fetch water for their family in remote villages. She determined to help. So she set up her own charity to offer direct assistance. Goat’s milk can transform the health of children who otherwise have no protein, vitamins or minerals for months on end, so she initiated a goat loan system – offering the most deprived families in some of the remotest villages a young goat (‘kid’) to provide milk every day for the children (hence ‘kids’ for kids). She has helped 92 villages and nearly half a million people, ensuring families stay together, rather than Darfur’s norm sending eldest sons away to work and send money home to prevent the family dying of starvation. As Sudan has been decimated by drought in the past couple of years, Patricia has stepped up the work. In addition to goat loans (one billy goat to four nanny goats in each area can help the families build more goats) they also provide blankets, mosquito nets, healthcare, midwives to help stop FGM, veterinary care and, most important, water pumped to villages directly. Her only regret is that she has no time to fulfil her dream of becoming an artist. Given the irrelevance of age, she still may have time in years to come!
Lord Indarjit Singh CBE, 86 years of age stepped up his activities when he turned 70, promoting tolerance between world faiths, representing the UK Sikh Community and arranging cross-communal celebrations with multi-faith leaders, royalty and Parliamentarians. He still works tirelessly to break down barriers and promote world peace, travelling the globe addressing international Summits, UN Committees, the Parliament of World Religions – and was the first Sikh to speak at a major Vatican conference. He has made a significant contribution to communal harmony and one British Ambassador described him as ‘the man who brought Guru Nanak to the breakfast tables of Britain’.
THE OVERALL WINNER
Dr. Denis Rutovitz MBE, age 90, was judged the overall winner. His achievements are enormously impressive – and extensive. When he turned 70, a few years after retiring from the Edinburgh Medical Research Council, he became the prime mover of a charity called Edinburgh Direct Aid, which helps victims of conflict and disaster worldwide. While delivering convoys of aid to civilians in Sarajevo in the Balkans War, he was shot in the chest – and his heroism was recognised with an MBE. He determined to continue extending the hand of friendship to global victims of natural disasters and war. The charity repatriated refugees from Bosnia and Kosovo, rebuilt their homes and schools; delivered medical supplies to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza; rescued earthquake victims in Sri Lanka and Kashmir; and helped an orphanage for AIDS victims in Kenya. Not only is his own work so inspiring, but he also brings in many local people over age 70 as volunteers, helping the charity collecting and packing parcels to be delivered for victims. For his 90th birthday, this tremendous man raised £16,000 in sponsorship by doing two 10-kilometre runs, which helped put two Syrian refugees through university in Lebanon. His intergenerational contributions are so uplifting – a truly worthy winner.