By Patricia Raskin
How Older Role Models Motivate and Inspire Me
Living to 100 was an early life goal
I began learning about positive aging in my thirties when I had a strong premonition that I would live until at least 100 years old.
I read a book about the Hunzas, who at that time had the longest centenarian success rate. They live at very high altitudes, eat the food they grow off the land, and walk many miles a day. How we can extend our years of life and at the same time maintain our quality of life always fascinated me.
I found older, positive role models when I produced “Positive Aging in North Carolina,” a documentary for the North Carolina Division of Aging, which aired on the North Carolina PBS affiliate in the mid 1990’s.
This synchronistic Centenarian story was meant to be told
I was in the final stages of producing a television documentary on Positive Aging in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.the closing segment in the mid 1990’s.
While filming the end of the documentary, a photographer who brought several photographs he thought were perfect for the ending approached me. When we disagreed about several of his selections, he became difficult and stormed out of the studio, leaving me without a completed documentary and without very much time to find the right replacement.
I sat in the conference room wondering how on earth I could fix the broken ending.
Just at that moment, the receptionist entered the conference room unannounced and handed me a package addressed to me. I was flabbergasted because I only worked in the studio once a month and any mail addressed to me usually laid in my in-box, awaiting my arrival. This particular package arrived and was delivered to me the day I was there filming the closing.
The package contained a national press release from Houston, Texas announcing a senior sports classics competition. One of the people featured was the 102-year-old golfer named Harley Potter who lived in Winston Salem which is where I was!!
I was in the conference room at the television station in Winston-Salem located approximately twenty minutes from the centenarian who would be the perfect closing story for my documentary!
It’s never too late to learn a new skill
I called Harley’s daughter and she arranged for me to meet them at the local club where he played golf almost daily. At that time, he was a 102-year-old golfer who won gold medals at local, state and national tournaments. His 73-year-old daughter, Leta Duffin, drove him to our on-location shoot and rode in the golf cart with him. Harley’s only major impairment was that he had only 25 percent hearing left in one ear, so we directed our questions to that ear. This man was as happy as he could be as long as he had a golf club in his hand. Harley said,
“You are never to old to learn to play golf. I started when I was 92, and I never had a lesson.” On his golf game, he said, “My handicap was 44 when I started, but now it’s down to 37. The last game I played, my score was 100.”
A Centenarian’s secret to long life
I asked Harley his secret to a long life. He said,
“I don’t worry. Yesterday is gone and there is nothing you can do about it today. I look forward to today and beyond that, I keep going. I watch my health. I’ve never smoked. I eat three meals a day, but never eat too much and I exercise.
The legacy we leave our children and grandchildren
Years later Harley’s daughter, Leta, told me,
“Daddy never thought of himself as being very old. He always figured that you were only as old as you acted. So he did a lot of things. He sang in the church choir. He never felt he shouldn’t be singing at the age of 100. Daddy died peacefully at 106 after being in a nursing home for about two years.”
I asked Leta what her father taught her. She said,
“He taught me not to worry about tomorrow or about the past. Daddy didn’t teach me by telling me. He taught me by living it.”
Leta also told me about her then nine-year-old granddaughter, Elizabeth’s, experience with her father. She shared that her father loved for Elizabeth to visit him in the nursing home. She went often and wheeled him out into the park. Everyone in the place knew when she came because Daddy would come rushing down the hallway to meet them. Elizabeth loved him dearly and one of the most beautiful things she did during the funeral was to put a tiny pink glass heart inside his pocket in his casket.
This story is one of the highlights of my media work. Besides the uncanny synchronicity of the story, Harley himself was so amazing and such a great role model.
My media role model
Speaking of role models, a media icon passed away recently. Barbara Walters was an icon in the world of broadcast journalism for women and for men as well. She didn’t just break the glass ceiling; she changed the way we look it totally. Her death impacted me greatly.
Walters was a role model for me as I began interviewing four decades ago in 1982. At that time it certainly wasn’t the norm or fashionable especially for women to work in journalism, or to focus on positive people, positive living, positive business as I did at that time.
We set the longevity example for others
I am in the minority in my career pursuits and passion at my age of 75, and in my current focus on positive aging. However, that won’t be the case in the coming decades as with all of the advances in medicine and technology, more people will work over the age of 65.
As I look at my career I’ve been very fortunate to meet many amazing role models that helped pave the way for me.
Suggestions to live better longer
I learned so much from amazing role models I met, knew and interviewed over these many years. Based on my experiences, here are my seven suggestions for those of us in “prime time” to live better longer.
Find those role models at any age.
Find people with passion, energy and curiosity. They can be people in your field who educate you or anyone who inspires you. Read about them and learn about their methods and strategies.
Debunk myths about aging and staying current with technology.
In 2010, the Pew Foundation reported that only 43% of people 65 and over used the internet; that number grew to 75% in 2021. Computer use is growing fastest in the over-65 population.
Learn new skills to keep your brain active.
Studies show that mental decline is not an inevitable part of aging. People leading intellectually stimulating lives are more likely not to develop dementia conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Be resilient with those physical, mental and emotional challenges.
We may have to make adaptations to the way we did things before as our strength and abilities may change.
Prepare for losses of friends, family and colleagues.
Honor those memories and lessons learned and use them as a beacon of light to help you continue to move forward.
Be a mentor.
You have so much experience from everything you’ve been through. Find someone who’s hungry to learn. It’s a great gift to mentor, both for the student and for the teacher.
Understand that all of our experiences, both positive and negative, add to the richness of our lives.
As you move forward in your work endeavors in your older adult years, keep doing what works and utilize the mistakes as lessons. One of the greatest gifts in our older adult years, is the experience and wisdom we have gained.
The bottom line
As long as we are here, we have an opportunity to learn, contribute, grow and enjoy our lives. Take advantage of all life has to offer to live your best life moving forward!
About the author
Patricia Raskin is recognized as the “powerhouse voice” behind positive lifestyle, health, wellness, and inspirational programs. She is a “positive media” pioneer for almost four decades and is an award-winning radio producer, business owner and leader. For four decades Patricia has been a trailblazer for positive messaging through her media work, corporate training and podcast coaching
Having interviewed over 5,000 people in her career, Patricia’s programs have aired on FOX, PBS, NPR and Cumulus affiliates and her weekly radio show/podcast in its twenty-second year is heard on VoiceAmerica.com.
Patricia’s first focus on Positive Aging was in 1995 when she produced and narrated “Positive Aging in North Carolina” which aired on UNC TV, the PBS affiliate in North Carolina. She produced and delivered a radio program and workshop series on Positive Aging for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Rhode Island and Age-Friendly Rhode Island in 2018. Most recently in the fall of 2022, Patricia completed a 13 week “Positive Aging” podcast series produced by Rhode Island PBS and is currently airing on podcast networks.