By Susan Hickman
Ginny Merritt never expected to retire. At 75, with her job about to disappear due to a takeover, she is already contemplating new challenges. And stumbling across the Top Sixty Over Sixty program, an initiative that explores the nature of ageing, has given her a new perspective on life after, well, a certain age.
Stopping work wasn’t her plan. Over a lifetime of working in publications, advertising and public relations, Merritt always loved whatever she was doing and always managed to carve out a satisfying niche in every job. She recalls a six-month sojourn to Northern Ireland in the late 1960s, when she accidentally found herself organizing a grand opening for a global event at a base metals mine.“The opportunity arose and I thought, ‘This looks good,’” recalls Merritt. “And it was the job that got me going.”
Throughout her career, she has been able to try new things, learn new skills and test her capabilities. Whether creating advertisements for newspapers, doing payroll for a café, or marketing for wineries and artists in Prince Edward County, Merritt relished every new task that came her way. When the nature of marketing changed with the burgeoning Internet and social media platforms, Merritt was fortunate to find work with a consultant who was willing to mentor her and teach her the new skills she required. To solidify her knowledge, she registered for social media courses at Algonquin College.
Merritt’s eyes light up when she talks about her current job as a marketing manager with an international Canadian-based toy distributor. “(My former boss) was instrumental in getting me this job. I work with a sales team on marketing strategies, advertising, public relations, social media, design trade shows. I absolutely love product development and package design!”
Even though she was 67 when she landed this job, the idea of retirement wasn’t on her radar. She speaks admiringly of the likes of Jean Pigott, an Ottawa businesswoman and politician who was an advisor to Prime Minister Joe Clark and a rare female CEO in the early ‘70s, or the highly influential 85-year-old Ruth Ginsburg of the Supreme Court of the United States who, at 81, said she intended to remain a justice as long as she was mentally sharp enough to perform her duties. “A good friend in Prince Edward County worked until she was 80, selling advertising for a magazine. She said to me, ‘Never retire. It’s not good for you.’ I’ve always been attracted to these amazing women,” Merritt admits. “They’re my role models.”
Now faced with retirement she wasn’t planning on taking, however, Merritt is having to re-think her life. “Yes, I’d like a bit more personal time, but work fills a lot of needs. I get to express myself creatively. It challenges me and makes me grow and learn.”
It was coincidental, perhaps, that Merritt came across the Top Sixty Over Sixty program, a platform created to celebrate, educate and amplify the positive impact of older Canadians. Her son’s good friend is the son of Top Sixty founder Helen Hirsh Spence and the two boys brought her to the project. She signed up for Top Sixty’s ReSet, a program that focuses on reducing ageism and increasing the entrepreneurial mindset of its older participants. “I didn’t realize how much I had internalized ageism,” Merritt confesses. “People think of 75 as old, but I don’t feel old in my head. There’s a certain invisibility I have noticed in the workplace. You’re written off, and yet I have so much to contribute, so much knowledge and experience. People don’t acknowledge that you might have anything to offer and yet I feel that very strongly.”