Wednesday, January 30, 2013

For Mad Men Fans, a Pitch that Changed America

The scene is dark. A man with thinning hair is lying awake, unable to sleep. He checks the time. It's 3:30 a.m.  The voiceover says:
So this is retirement. No place to go. Nothing to do. This is what it means to be put out to pasture. There must be something else.

And of course, in 1960 there was something else. Something new. An idea that Americans would glom onto for decades afterward.  The previous quote is from a video made  to promote the nation's first retirement community. That would be Sun City, AZ, a brainstorm of pioneering developer Del Webb, who is also credited with coming up with the phrase, "The Golden Years."

You've got to see this video to believe it. Mad Men fans, you'll love this!

If the play button on the photo below doesn't work, copy this in your browser:

 or Google search:
"Youtube Sun City Promotional"

If you don't want to spend 12 minutes on it, start it at 7:40 for the winter of that generation's  discontent.


Friday, January 25, 2013

Dr. Anna Meadows: Specializing in Survivorship

Dr. Anna Meadows, on to new challenges
 Dr. Anna Meadows was at the top of her game. The illustrious cancer researcher had pioneered the idea of “survivorship” – following children through life who had been cured of cancer in order to monitor the side effects of their treatment. She had been chief of oncology at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and she had launched a new center within the National Cancer Institute.
Then, on December 31, 2010, Anna very determinedly walked away from it all.
“I didn’t want to do anything involved with medicine and haven’t for two years,” she said recently, as we prepared for a joint talk (along with former Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Flora Wolf) on unretiringat the Cosmopolitan Club. (More on Judge Wolf in a later blog)
“I just got tired of it. I’d had enough,” Anna  said. “I was bored.”
This is a sentiment I’ve heard often from creative, purposeful people who champion an issue like a lonely voice in the wilderness, only to find the challenge gone when everyone else finally catches up.
Survivorship was Anna Meadows’ issue.
“I started in 1975 to think about what would happen to children cured of cancer,” she said. Then, only 10 to 20 percent of children were making it through the disease.  Gradually she discovered the consequences of certain types of radiation, and began to work on clinical trials that changed treatment without sacrificing outcomes, but with fewer and less severe longterm complications.
 “I went to lots of meetings talking about survivorship and after 25 years, the rest of the world decided it was an issue. All of a sudden, it was as if they’d invented it,” she said. “For 25 years, I was beating my head against a wall. I could see what was going to happen…Where had they been?”
Today, she explained, 80 percent of kids are cured of their cancer. There’s even the Office of Cancer Survivorship, which she launched under President Clinton. And, unrelenting, she snagged seed money from Lance Armstrong’s foundation to set up a survivorship institute at Penn, where the issues of childhood cancer survivors are understood.
Then, said Anna,  “I decided it was time to quit.  There wasn’t anything more in medicine that I thought I could contribute, and I wanted to do other things.”
She craved a new challenge, and even contemplated law school 10 years ago. (Why not? she thought. After all, she’d entered medical school at age 34, tackling it as a mother of three.)
She eased her way out of CHOP.  “I worked part time for five years and started to do other things. I found a gradual transition helpful.”
She discovered a new calling in Penn’s Village, which is  neither Quaker nor a retirement home. It’s a burgeoning concept in an era when people want to “age in place” – stay in their homes until they’re carried out feet first, if at all possible.  To stay put, people may need support services – folks who can climb ladders, offer transportation, find plumbers, and help them with doctors’ appointments. And with this service focused on Center City, people can also continue to take advantage of the area’s flourishing cultural activities. That’s the mission of Penn’s Village, which aims to cover this “naturally occuring retirement community” or NORC.
Anna saw Penn’s Village as an opportunity to implement an idea that she had  been trying to launch – to help patients navigate the medical system. Now, she’s using her organizational skills – particularly her ability to run meetings and reach consensus – to “set up a protocol to help with people with their medical choices, empowering them to ask the right questions.”
Retirement, she says is “taking advantage of opportunities to expand on what you want to do and think you’re good at. You make use of the skills and knowledge of your professional life but do it in a different way.”
As for choices, Anna is relishing those she is making, post medicine.
 “My life is so full of things,” including her marriage and travel with cancer geneticist Alfred Knudson Jr., noted for coming up with the theory that cancer mutations require “two hits.” She’s president of the retired faculty at Penn. And she’s recently board emeritus of the New Century Trust, which supports women and girls.  More recently, she’s been energized by the Cosmopolitan Club, a historic women’s social group where she now chairs a program committee.
Instead of spending her days immersed with medical folks,  she now can “interact with people with different skills --  lawyers, artists, ministers” and more. “It’s made me quite satisfied.”
Oh, and I forgot. There’s her tennis game. Phew!

At 2 p.m. on January 29, Penn’s Village will host talk by Thelma Reese, co-author of “The ElderChicks’ Guide to the Rest of Your Life” at the Rittenhouse Square Free Library, 19th and Locust Streets, Philadelphia.
RSVP to or call  215-925-7333.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Happy Fernandez--Her Latest Mission

Photo by Steven M. Falk, Phila. Inquirer

Just 10 days ago,  on the eve of lung surgery,  Happy Craven Fernandez sent an email to friends and colleagues, closing with,  “Please do not send flowers or gifts etc. Non-profits in this region can always put dollars and cents to good use.”
Happy, who retired last spring from her post as president of Philadelphia’s Moore College of Art and Design, was like that. Whether running for  mayor of Philadelphia (1999), serving on City Council (1991), or teaching at Temple University and launching child advocacy programs, she poured her energy into benefitting her community.
 Last summer, while reveling in the freedom, at last, of a rare vacation in New England, she had also spent it strategizing her next step.
With fulltime work behind her, Happy was plotting out her ‘encore career.’ She had decided that she wanted to mentor women engaged in non-profit and public service work so that they could both fulfill themselves and better fulfill the missions of their organizations. But she wanted to do this in the biggest and best way possible.  So she brought together 22 of the city’s most prominent women – leaders who, like herself, had long and successful careers in the non-profit world. The group included a law school dean, a TV executive, as well as board members and leaders of some of the city’s most prominent 501(3C)s.
And, lucky for me, because of my focus on “unretiring,” she swept me into her fold.

I felt fortunate to be able to watch the process as these talented, influential women debated the best use to which their expertise and energy could be put. Should they focus on younger women just launching careers? Or people in mid-career reaching for leadership positions? Maybe their mission should be nurturing non-profit boards, some of which struggle to be effective and some of which are simply dysfunctional. Or should the group focus on advocacy – looking to foster change in organizations in which women are under-represented?
After several meetings (the last, with Happy at the helm, was just two days before her surgery), the group was beginning to coalesce, to harness their skills to a higher purpose.
With Happy’s leadership, they were (to quote Marc Freedman, the guru of the Encore Career movement) blending “clear-eyed pragmatism and the determination to make a better world, the idealism of a generation tempered by years of experience at making things work.”

Will this continue without Happy, who died today following a massive stroke three days after her surgery? What’s the most effective way to harness the collective power of women with non-profit expertise? And to what end?
Send along your ideas and I’ll share them with the group Happy launched. Perhaps this will be yet another legacy she would be proud of.

Friday, January 18, 2013

On Break-ups: A New 70-Year Itch?

If the dissolution of a lifelong career isn't traumatizing enough, how about the breakup of a just-as-long marriage?  Take Al and Tipper Gore (40 years). Ed and Midge Rendell (40 years). Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver (25 years). According to this article in the London Telegraph,  more and more 60-somethings are splitting as they try to reinvent themselves midlife.
Is this an inevitable consequence of the growing realization that you might, in "retirement," have several decades in front of you? Is there maybe a new phenomenon called the 70-year itch?
Please share any insights you may have and thoughts on saving a multi-decade marriage!
(And what do you think of that smarmy phrase "silver separations?")

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Grandpa Modeling Dresses Has China in Stitches

Lu Qianping, 72. Courtesy, Wall St. Journal

Could it be that oldsters in China are outrĂ©,  even outrageous?
Take Lu Qianping, a 72-year-old grandfather who once farmed rice and now models crimson dresses designed by his coutourier granddaughter. Yes, dresses.
Today's Wall St. Journal reports on this "cadre of Chinese seniors" whose "lives have been marked by unimaginable change-- from surviving famine to the advent of fast food. Along the way, many have adopted a devil-may-care approach that flies in the face of stereotypes about conservative Asian elders."
There's even a word for the phenom in Chinese. It's laolaiqiao, loosely translated:  "old people doing young things that even young people wouldn't do."
The story is a stitch -- read it here.
And loosen up! At this stage, why not make a fool of yourself if you're having fun?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

A Congressman (if not Congress) Moves On

 Congressman Gary L. Ackerman (D-NY),  in the New York Times today writes:
"To retire after 35 years in elected office, with no formulated plan as yet but goofing off with my grandchildren, seems right for the moment. I’m happy to play the rest of life by ear."

This is the start of his voyage in transition. (Let's catch up with him in six months or a year). One wonders whether the Congress he leaves will change course as well.
Read His farewell.

And in case New Year's revelries caused you to miss Susan Rona's quest for meaning...