“Forget every out-dated belief you may have heard about aging,” said Jim Gray, the energy guru and philanthropist who launched Calgary's Top 7 over 70 awards after years of meeting exceptional people starting ventures later in life. “There are many older adults achieving remarkable results in fields ranging from business, science and the arts to health, fitness, philanthropy and more.”
And Gray's got the proof that age is truly just a number. Check out Calgary’s newest Top 7 Over 70 winners, who are finding remarkable success in entrepreneurship, education, human rights, arts, sports and philanthropy:
* RON GHITTER: A former senator, this 88-year-old life-time public servant has created a new human rights forum. In his spare time, he’s put Calgary on the tennis map by raising millions to build the amazing Osten & Victor Alberta Tennis Centre in the city.
* DR. BENNO NIGG: An 85-year-old biomechanics expert, Benno’s knowledge of athletic shoes has been sought by everyone from Nike and Adidas to Lululemon; he and colleagues even worked with David Beckham. He’s helped the U of C Faculty of Kinesiology land a position as the No. 1 sports medicine school in North America two years in a row, while also starting his own sports research company.
* JOHN SCOTT: If there’s one person whose name is associated with luring big-budget films to southern Alberta, it’s John Scott. This 83-year-old rancher is a leading Canadian stunt expert, who continues to put southern Alberta on Hollywood’s map and recently received a “location of the year” award at the world-famous Cannes film festival.
* JANICE McTIGHE: Janice is an 82-year-old visionary educator who is opening a $30-million junior/senior high school for Calgary kids with disabilities. Previously, she started Renfrew Educational Services in 1974 and grew it into an internationally recognized program that has helped thousands of students with physical and cognitive special needs.
* TANIA WILLUMSEN: This 76-year-old Calgary woman demonstrates how one person can truly make a difference. She’s been helping Ukrainian refugees settle here and assisting them with everything from entering the labour market and learning the language to counselling, financial support and emotional support.
* MOGENS SMED: Mogens is a well-known 75-year-old Calgary entrepreneur and innovator, who showed it’s never too late to start something new. He created another new business at age 71 and within four years he’s already grown that enterprise to one employing almost 500 people.
* TOM JACKSON: A 74-year-old award-winning actor, whose film, TV and music projects grow in scope every year, we know Tom’s work from North of 60 and the Huron Carole. He’s now working on the new series Sullivan’s Crossing, while also creating a detective drama and continuing his philanthropic work via new music and video projects.
At a September event announcing the honorees, McTighe said she couldn't imagine what her life would look like if she wasn't involved with Renfrew Educational Services.
“I need a purpose in my life,” she said. “I have kids and grandkids and that’s all really nice. But I’m inspired to do this work.”
On her help with Ukrainian refugees, Willumsen said, “They’ve had amazingly difficult and tragic experiences. When people have asked me to help out with something, I always do that.”
In addition to creating a new human rights forum, former senator Ghitter adds building the Osten & Victor Alberta Tennis Centre in Calgary and dealing with young people and young ideas keeps him alive and thinking.
"When you contribute, you get more out of it than you ever put into it, just from the feeling you have doing something good," he said.
“The accomplishments of these individuals are truly inspirational,” said Top 7 Over 70 chair Monica Zurowski. “They are making a difference in our community every day."
Gray said there are several awards that honour the pursuits of younger folks and “lifetime achievement” awards for older adults, but he’s not aware of any other organizations that specifically recognize people for the work they do after they hit retirement age.
"We’re living longer, we’re somewhat healthier--both neurologically and physically--and so seniors are making a real significant contribution. And not just to other seniors but to the whole society, to the whole community. It’s quite astounding; it’s been under the radar for too long.”
The 2023 Top 7 Over 70 awards will be presented at a gala on Oct. 23 in Calgary.