Let me tell you a simple story that I think sums up a very special woman, Kate Redwood. I’m sitting at her kitchen table concluding the interview for this 50 Faces 50 Lives article. The “Interview” has evolved into a warm chat among two new friends as we share our bucket lists and future plans. “Well if we’re going to do all these things we’d better be fit and healthy. Do you want to join a gym…… be my gym buddy?” I mutter and mumble about a bad back, but there’s a “yes” in my response hidden somewhere. I arrive home and within the hour there’s a text from Kate- we’re booked with Hannah at the gym at 7.30am tomorrow! Hmmm OK I think, with visions of steroid boosted hulks pumping iron while granny here has a cardiac arrest on the treadmill. Kate is a woman of action. Having heard her story, what did I expect? Incidentally it’s only a week in, but I’m loving the gym…..the best decision I’ve made all year!
Here’s Kate’s story…….
Kate grew up in a family of three daughters here in Victoria. Her early years were spent on a farm in Hamilton but they moved to Melbourne when her mother became ill. Her mother had a mental health disability and this encouraged a family where caring for others was part of the family narrative. Her sisters married young and Kate was largely bought up by her father. At 14 Kate ran the household. Kate describes her family as “humble, decent, lovely folk.” She attended Tintern private girls’ school. She learned determination, a sense of community obligation and a commitment to excellence and these gave her a strong moral compass. And “You grew up knowing you could do things.” She says.
And she went on to DO quite a few things to the extent that Kate was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia in 2013. After graduating with a degree in Social Work Kate held a number of different roles in child protection and disability access. She was elected as a councillor at the City of Melbourne and later at the Hepburn Shire council, where she is still a councillor.
Kate was Executive Director at the Victorian Red Cross and Chair of the Melbourne Disability Advisory Committee. Her commitment to working on environmental issues and the status of women is another thread in her social activism. In between her career roles, volunteerism and social reform she also had 2 children and completed an MBA. And then there’s her qualification in Wool Classing. Yep, she’s a qualified wool classer…..Why? Kate is involved in running a farm with her husband. “It has a lot of sheep on it. He couldn’t get a wool classer so I thought, OK It must be possible to do this. It is something totally new for me and it’s a great learning experience.”
Life-long learning has a whole new dimension when talking with Kate! We move on to the key questions about life at this age…….
What do you like about life at this age?
“Singing” she does not hesitate. “I wanted to be an opera singer and here in Daylesford at U3a (University of the Third Age) I’m having singing lessons with a wonderful woman who trained at the French Conservatoire.” Kate bounds out of her chair to gather some of her music sheets. There’s Puccini, Tosca, the pages flutter and her eyes sparkle when she speaks animatedly about the joy of singing and music in her life.
She says “As a young woman you are goal driven, speedy and efficient but now’s the time to focus on other things. She speaks of Neville, her husband whom she married last year on her 70th Birthday. They had been together for ten years. He is a passionate conservationist and activist in the protection of grasslands and Kate wants to work with him on regenerative farming projects.
What are the challenges older age brings?
There’s no hesitation. “Reduced psychological and physical capacity as we age.”
What about death? Do you think much about this Kate?
“Yes I think death is final but if I can be reincarnated I want to come back as a Black opera singer…..But I don’t think that’s likely!” We laugh. “I think we all fear the space before death. That time of limited capacity.” As I scribble to catch up with the tumble of wonderful images, she tells the story of her father who at 90 years of age became obsessed with all things red. So the family bought him lots of red things to organise and appreciate. “There are always new opportunities to enjoy life even when life is restricted.” She says.
What are the things that are still on your bucket list?
“My relationship with my grandchildren is hugely important. They are in Canberra and Copenhagen. I want to be available to certain people in my life like my sister and Neville, (her husband). I want to provide stronger support for the things he wants to achieve.
What advice would you give others about ageing well?
Kate provides me with a free flowing verbal list of ageing well tips…
“Whatever the circumstances there are always opportunities.
It’s a privilege to be a special person in someone’s life so find people who need your interest and support.
Make sure you go to the dentist…and do your pelvic floor exercises so you can stave off incontinence!”
What more can I say?
So much about ageing well lies in how we think about life. Was our own attitude to ageing formed in the early years of our lives? In some ways the answer is yes. We learned about self- efficacy, resilience and risk. We developed attitudes about fear, optimism, responsibility, independence and more. But we are also able to change our behaviours at any age and we never stop exploring the world. Kate said “You grew up knowing you can DO things.” What a gift out of adversity and the shaping of an optimistic outlook on life.
What did you grow up Knowing? It’s a big question. How much have those attitudes shaped the path you take in these older years? Do these attitudes still serve you well or do they need to change?
I had a lovely conversation with Kate Redwood and came away thinking about some of these questions and how important it is to share these stories of how people shape their lives in their later years. They are positive stories about making life meaningful and giving it purpose. I know there’s book bursting to come out of these stories. It’s taking shape with every conversation I have with men and women living a good life in their later years.