When considering how to honor International Day of Older Persons 2020, three impactful lives came to mind. The following three people have influenced our organization and the world in more ways than can be conceptualized. The work they did in their older age changed the conversation around ageism. As we remember and honor their lives, it is critical to identify the impact they made as older adults.
Representative John Lewis
John Lewis’s leadership in the Civil Rights Movement started at an early age. By the time he was a teenager, Lewis had met with Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks about his activism. He attended an HBCU in Tennessee before being ordained as a Baptist Minister. Eventually, Lewis would go on to become one of the 13 original freedom fighters during the Civil Rights Movement. His leadership during the Selma March, also known as “Bloody Sunday” was one of the most noteworthy moments in history.
At the age of 47, Lewis began his congressional career, which he continued until his passing. During his time in Congress, he worked on significant bills that changed our nation for the better, including the establishment of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.
In a statement from his family, they said “He was honored and respected as the conscience of the US Congress and an icon of American history, but we knew him as a loving father and brother. He was a stalwart champion in the ongoing struggle to demand respect for the dignity and worth of every human being. He dedicated his entire life to non-violent activism and was an outspoken advocate in the struggle for equal justice in America. He will be deeply missed.”
William Gates Sr.
William Gates Sr., also known as Bill Gates Sr., was an American philanthropist, lawyer, and activist, who possessed an overwhelming sense of empathy for others. To describe his father, Bill Gates said, “Finally, my dad had a profoundly positive influence on my most important roles – husband and father. When I am at my best, I know it is because of what I learned from my dad about respecting women, honoring individuality, and guiding children’s choices with love and respect.”
Bill Gates Sr. was well-known for his work in rural development, his contributions to the University of Washington, his alma mater, and his fulfilling career as a lawyer.
Alongside his son, Gates helped to create the world’s largest philanthropic organization. He was adamant that the money generated by the public for Microsoft and other large ventures should be returned to better the public sphere, which he did via the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Gates exhibited a strong sense of compassion and an empathic spirit that will not be forgotten.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Our team at HelpAge USA was devastated to hear the news of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing. As she took on the role of Supreme Court Justice later in her life, Ginsburg showcased the undeniable contributions that women, and particularly older women, have on our world. Her strength, determination, and tenacity up until her death exemplified what we know to be true: getting older does not lessen your talent or worth.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg changed the very fabric of our nation and her work championing gender equality will be regaled throughout history. Yet her legacy will be defined not only by her indefatigable advocacy for equal rights but also by her celebrity in older age, for it was precisely the fact that she was older and still championing the same ideals that seemed to catapult her into fame. She defied norms when she didn’t retire five years ago under a Democratic administration. Rather than projecting an image of older age and frailty, she demonstrated that she was strong and capable: sparking the creation of graphics under the slogan, “Not fragile like a flower, fragile like a bomb.”
The strength and impassioned grit of Ginsburg will go on to inspire generations of advocates in a myriad of fields and disciplines. At HelpAge USA, we will remember her for fighting for the rights of all people regardless of their race, gender, ability, or age.