To be 90 and living a good life is not just luck. It is an art form and takes careful consideration and practice. Lucky for us we can learn how it’s done from those who are doing it now. Meet Graham who is 90. He shares his thoughts and the steps he has taken that have helped him to remain independent. It starts with your vision for your future. ‘Well, one of the things that is important is that you’ve got to have a vision of what you want to do, if you do retire, so you don’t sit at home and vegetate, you can’t do that.’ How do you get that vision? ‘Think about it.’ Spend some time thinking about the life you want. ‘I remember in my younger working days there were older guys who used to retire at 60 or 65 and they’d nearly all drop off the perch within three or four years because they had nothing to look forward to.’
Graham’s first career was as a civil engineer but when he retired in his 60s he started his second career in real estate. Most people think of winding down when they retire. ‘Oh no! No, no, that’s when I went into real estate. That wasn’t a wind down, it was a wind up. I had a friend and we used to talk about real estate. They said, “Well, if you’re interested in real estate, why don’t you go and do the course at the TAFE?” So I enrolled while I was still working. It was really hard work. Of course, the moment I started in real estate there was a great slump. So I really had to work hard to even get my first sale but things got better and better. I’m a Christian, I’ve gone to Sunday school since I was a kid so it was difficult working in that real estate environment because quite a few were not ethical, I can assure you. I had a couple of very unpleasant experiences, but you live through those.’
Part of Graham’s success is thanks to his wife of 53 years, Sue, who is in her early 80s. ‘We work very well together, we look after each other, it’s terribly important. I think that’s one of the joys of our married life really,’ says Graham. Sue is a good cook but Graham is very good at ironing and housework. Graham is happy to help around the house and he says, ‘It was the way I was brought up when I was growing up, to help around the house. I had two sisters, one of them died when she was 5. We used to help, my sister and I. We used to share the washing up at night and talk to each other and find out what was going on.’ Sue says, ‘I think it’s because we married later in life. We didn’t marry each other to change each other, just to grow. I always said that it was for both of us to reach our potential supported by the other. That’s what it was all about.’ Graham and Sue share activities but they also do their own thing. Sue disappeared from our chat to get ready to go to her bridge game.
They have two sons and daughters-in-law and 6 grandkids. They don’t live close by but, ‘I will say this, we are very fortunate we have good relationships with our grandchildren as well as with our daughters-in-law and our sons. They’re all very busy so we don’t see a lot of them but Sue makes a particular point we get them all together here, for lunches or whatever, whenever we can.’ These good relationships are partly thanks to Graham’s efforts. ‘We’d be getting up at 5 o’clock to go up there to watch them at sport at 7.30 in the morning. They all use phones now so they message us and they ring us up as well. We’ve always been interested in what our family has been doing.’ Graham uses WhatsApp and text messages to stay in contact. ‘I don’t say I’m the whizz kid on the computer, but I can do most things. I like to learn, if I can. I suppose you’ve got to go with the flow.’
Graham’s early retirement years were very busy. He had his second career in real estate and he also built and landscaped his home in the Southern Highlands. This was a labour of love and physically demanding to maintain the gardens and the home. They lived there for 19 years and then the wise decision was made to move. ‘We were getting to the stage where looking after the property was getting to be a little bit difficult. We could get somebody to probably come and do the housework and look after the garden but we decided we’d make a move. Every time we went out of the house you had to walk uphill or downhill. We were on a slope. We thought when we move we’ll try and find an area where it’s fairly flat. So we came here and the minute we walked into this house I thought, “This is it.” I thought that I’d never be as happy living anywhere else after living on the mountain. But it’s flat, and so easy to walk around here with the dog. There’s some lovely spots you can go to and we take her down to the lake and walk around.’
Graham hasn’t given away the activities he enjoys although he has adapted over time. He used to belong to a walking group and go on 15 km walks every week. ‘I certainly can’t work in the garden as heavily as I used to and we’re still walking but we don’t do the 15 km walks.’ He still works in his garden although it’s smaller than his former garden. He has collected friends throughout his life including from his days of being involved with his son’s activities. He was manager of their soccer team and he was Scout leader when they did Scouts. ‘We have quite a good social life, we have quite a few friends. Covid did knock it. We used to meet regularly with a group of people. We’d have dinner at our different homes. It still happens but not as much as it did before Covid came.
‘We’re involved down here with U3A. [University of the Third Age]. I don’t teach but I help out in administration and things like that. They do all sorts of things, like art and if you’re interested in music, going to the pictures, films, they have lunch outs. I’m doing a very interesting course on fact finding in court cases. I have downloaded about 90 pages of these laws and the statutes that are used in court cases and we’ve been following different very important court cases. It’s being taught by a retired university lecturer who was an advisor to the Commonwealth Government. It has been really hard going because we’ve had to do homework. And I’ve just done one [a course] on the types of renewable energy and what the future is, for Australia particularly, and the world. I play cribbage, of course we can’t play now because of the Covid but it’s a U3A thing and there’s a group of about 20 odd people that used to play. It’s very good exercise for your brain. I play [cribbage] with a friend now, he comes here every two weeks.’
‘My main routine is walking the dog twice a day. I don’t do it always twice a day but we [Sue] usually go together and if she’s busy I’ll do it and if I’m busy she’ll do it. And then one of us will do it in the afternoon. Since we’ve got her it’s been very regular, I mean she never misses out on a walk. I am so attached to her now, I can’t tell you. You can feel that you’ve known her for a long long time and she’s only been here three and a half years. I walk in rain but I won’t go out in pouring rain but Sue will, she’ll take her for a walk in pouring rain.’
Having some help is part of staying independent and Graham talks about how he ended up with some help with housework. ‘Friends said to us, “You know, you really should have help at your age. You’re getting on and you should have help.” So I suppose we thought we’ll try it anyway. We tried it and it works. I think it’s good. A lady comes once every two weeks to help do the bathrooms and does the vacuuming and that does make a difference. I used to do all the vacuuming. I help with the washing, put the washing out. I’m happy, she’s a good lady that comes, she’s a younger woman and she’s very personable. I think it’s very good actually. I think it was a wise move.
Graham actively manages his health issues. He has had both hips replaced and he has a good doctor. His doctor is so good that Graham waits for almost two hours to see him but he has learned to phone the surgery and check how late he is running so he waits at home instead of the doctors office. ‘The health care is very very good. I get eye injections once every 16 weeks now for macular degeneration locally, I don’t have to go anywhere else. It’s all local.’ Graham drives independently and is probably safer than many other road users because he has had three driving tests since he was 85 and he is soon due for his fourth driving test when he turns 91. ‘You can decide not to have that test and have a restricted license which allows you to drive for 15 km radius but I drive up to Sydney and down to Canberra.’
We are privileged to be able to learn about staying in control of your life when you get to be in your 90’s from someone who is doing it now. A lot of thought has gone into the strategies Graham uses and the ways he has managed challenges in his life. ‘I get concerned about things but I don’t let them overwhelm me. I just think it through whatever’s the problem. If there’s a problem try and think it through and solve it.’ This is great advice for life in general and can be used by anyone who has life experiences to draw from. Following in Graham’s footsteps, is there a second career you’d like to try when you retire? What is your vision for your future?