By Leon A Smith
August 10, 2012
It was sad to read this week of the passing of Sir Bernard Lovell – Sir Bernard was an astronomer who was best known for having created the famous radio telescope at Doggerel Bank in Cheshire. The Times Obituary tells of the “………construction of the radio telescope which was was his main task from 1950 and he tackled it with characteristic energy, imaginative foresight and single mindedness…..”.
1950 was a long time ago yet his creation and contribution to astronomy lasts until this day and will continue to do so in the future. Sir Bernard died at the age of 98. For many who are not involved in the world of astronomy we have not heard his name for many a year or decade – albeit we will almost certainly have heard of Doggerel Bank.
It is interesting that a man that has contributed so much to our collective knowledge has had such a low profile in the latter several decades of his life. Sir Bernard must have been a brilliant, gifted and dynamic man. Yet how many people who were born, shall we say, since 1980 would ever have heard of him simply because his major achievement took place at an earlier time.
The same could be said for so many older people. People who may die at an age well into their 90’s, possibly having lived with dementia for many years, will be remembered by some as just that – an older person with dementia. Yet we do a disservice to so many people who have contributed so much to society by not remembering their achievements as they were in their prime. Memories can be short and an individual’s contribution to society can soon be forgotten. Yet it does not make sense that in latter years we should be any less mindful of just what debt we owe to all older people. Everybody will have made their contribution in their own way to their own family, to their businesses, or to the businesses of others, or to society generally through volunteering and/or other similar commitments. How often do we read an obituary of somebody who is well known, only to learn many facts about that person that we never knew – simply because certain events may have taken place earlier in their lives and they are therefore not in our every day consciousness.
If we are to value older people we must be mindful of the lives that they have lived and the contribution which they have made as opposed to simply looking upon them as “older people”. This enormous group of people are often marginalised in society. How often do we see “older” people on TV or generally in the media. Life generally now is run at such a fast pace that it is in many respects difficult for older people to keep up. But are we doing enough to ensure that we slow down and/or to give them the wherewithal to keep up with us? I am referring to the ability of older people to access parts of our society both in terms of social access and physical access.
The Olympic Games by definition is clearly a younger person’s event but how much have we done to encourage the involvement and engagement of older people in this amazing event – unfortunately very little. There were no specific arrangements to enable groups of older people to visit and so many would have liked to have done, having been present at previous Games.
Old age is not sexy or romantic or appealing – yet millions of older people living in this country still have so much to offer. They are a vast untapped pool of knowledge, information and wisdom based on their life experiences. In my view more should be done to tap into this fantastic resource and more should be done to ensure that older people are warmly welcomed into the main stream of society rather than being marginalised around the edges.