Clem Sunter

Silver foxes

2010-06-18 07:46

My father was a successful stockbroker in London, among whose long-term clients were the Church of England and the Prudential. I remember reading letters of condolence to my mum from the portfolio managers of such institutions after his death. He had made them a lot of money, but he also earned their deep respect and affection.

Yet, it was one incident several years before his death that stuck in my mind. I was on a visit to the UK to see my parents in the early 1980s. They were by this time living on a hill overlooking a small village in Sussex. My father, who had retired, took me to the local church one afternoon. He was the treasurer and, as always, had parlayed a small bank account into a large one by shrewd investing.

He showed me the rafters of the church and the pews which had all been refurbished and said: “What do you think about that?” I replied: “I never thought you were religious.” He grinned as he shot back: “I’m just hedging my bets!” He was never obsessed with his job, he was a very keen gardener and he – with my mum – gave me an excellent upbringing as an only child.

He built me model yachts to sail on the Round Pond in Kensington Gardens and set up intricate rail networks for my electric trains at home. He even gave me a Bassett Lowke steam engine which raced around a circuit in the sitting room, spitting oil and hot water over the carpet. In his youth, his hobby was sculpture and, to this day, I have a lovely work of his mother’s head.

As we would say in the old days, he was a good allrounder. Now I would call him a fox, through and through. He pursued many different ideas at the same time.

However, this article is not just a trip down memory lane. In South Africa, we have many talented people of advancing years. I call them the “silver foxes”. They have so much experience accumulated over many years of working in different occupations. How can we put that experience to good use in uplifting the communities in the same way as my dad helped the local church? We should pay them something as well since their pensions may have taken a knock in the recession.

We need a register of the available talent, maybe a website to which people could add their names, the skills that they possess and where they can offer them. Empowerment is about employing all the skilled resources the country has in order to give the underprivileged a chance to better themselves and walk tall.

I recently read somewhere that if you keep your mind active after you retire, you are much less likely to go senile in your 80s. It makes sense. To use a modern expression, putting the elderly to work is therefore a win-win situation.

I wrote this column to commemorate Father’s Day next Sunday. I hope my children have as many positive memories about me as I have of my dad. And, dad, I hope you won your bet!

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