Old age isn’t what it used to be. When Social Security was created nearly 90 years ago by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, life expectancy was—get this—about 64 for women and just 60 for men. These days, many folks that age are just revving up for potentially decades of additional productivity and achievement. In fact, we should probably retire the word “old” for people that age today. Older, yes. Old? Nope.
Here’s some proof. HelpAge USA, a Washington-based nonprofit that works to “advance the well-being and inclusion” of older people in countries around the world, is out with its “60 Over 60” list of super-achieving Americans. We’re talking about men and women who are making a big difference, in ways both large and small.
“People over 60 have a wonderful breadth and depth of knowledge due to their years of experience,” says Cindy Cox-Roman, chief executive officer of HelpAge USA. “It is time that we recognize and celebrate their wisdom, tenacity and generosity, and show the world that people over 60 have a never-ending desire to make the world a better place.”
Here are just a few examples of Americans who are showing the rest of us that age, as the saying goes, is just a number.
Jean Beasley, age 85, works to protect sea turtles, their nests and the emerging hatchlings on an island off the North Carolina coast. She is a frequent speaker on conservation for both sea turtles and the planet and has been recognized around the world for her important work.
Warren Buffett needs no introduction to MarketWatch readers. But the Oracle of Omaha, now 91, makes the list for his co-founding of “The Giving Pledge,” in which fellow billionaires pledge to give at least half of their fortunes to philanthropic causes. But Buffett has gone a lot further than that, promising to give away virtually everything—99%—of his fortune during his lifetime. So far, he’s given $41 billion to issues such as fighting poverty, homelessness and supporting human rights.
Dr. Maria Maccecchini, 70, is the founder, president, chief executive officer and executive board member of Annovis, which the Pennsylvania woman founded to develop better therapeutics for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.
Edith Lee-Payne. This dedicated Michigan woman, who puts her age in the “70s,” is an activist for education, public safety, and voting rights. And if all that’s not enough, she’s also an advocate on the medical subject of organ and tissue donation.
Among my favorites on the list is former President Jimmy Carter, who I’ve written about previously for MarketWatch. Carter’s presidency ended more than four decades ago with a humiliating landslide, but he got right back on his feet and spent decades working on human rights issues, election integrity, eradicating diseases and building homes with Habitat for Humanity. At 97, the Nobel Peace Prize winning Carter remains a huge inspiration and a shining example of giving back and being productive.
I think that the desire to give back—to make a difference somehow, somewhere—grows as we age. We’re aware that more time is behind us than ahead, This, Cox-Roman says, can be a motivator.
“Wanting to give back or leave a legacy is a common sentiment as we age,” she says. “But there’s no road map in our society for how to do that. Too often, dreams without opportunities fade away.”
So what to do? “Identify what you’re passionate about and what would benefit from your time and talent,” Cox-Roman tells me. “Then, get involved in your community.
She gives one good example. In Washington, D.C., Cox-Roman is involved with a community health advocacy project. “We’re working with older Black adults in D.C. to launch ‘Grandparents against COVID-19,’ a movement of older people united in the goal of encouraging loved ones to get vaccinated or boosted. They’re taking the well-being of their families and communities into their own hands.”
The pandemic doesn’t make this easier, of course, nor does the fact that some older people aren’t online. “But for centuries, people got things done without the internet, without email,” Cox-Roman points out. “Phones work, conversations with social distancing are still possible. Remember, she says, “Change starts with you!”