Monday, July 4, 2011

A golden generation

If I were asked to name the public figures I most admire it would be sure to include David Attenborough. Not only do I enjoy his work but he speaks a lot of sense about the environment and population growth. Here are some of the other people I most admire in the world today:

The Queen - for retaining her dignity and barely putting a foot wrong during a lifetime under intense pressure and scrutiny

Clint Eastwood - can't remember a film of his I didn't like either as actor or director. A rare independent talent in Hollywood.

Warren Buffett - the greatest investor of all time who is giving away his fortune (all $50 billon of it!)

Richie Benaud - peerless cricket commentator

The remarkable thing is not that all these folk are in their 80s but that I don't think about their age when I see or read about them; they are just admirable people who are much the same now as when I first began to appreciate them. Of course not everyone living into their 80s shrugs off the passing years: giants of recent decades like Nelson Mandela, Margaret Thatcher, Dickie Attenborough and Alan Greenspan are still around but are shadows of their former selves.

But just think of how many people are still major players in their spheres at 80 years and beyond:

Stirling Moss
Robert Duvall
Christopher Plummer
Lee Kuan Yew
Duke of Edinborough
Rupert Murdoch
Sean Connery
Bernie Ecclestone
William Rees Mogg
Christopher Lee
Mikhail Gorbachev
Gene Hackman
Ronnie Corbett
Bruce Forsyth

I am sure you will have your own names to add to this list. A US website publishes a list of the 80 most powerful 80 year olds every year.

Longevity and retaining vigour well into old age is nothing new (Gladstone was British Prime Minister at 84) but it is inevitable that better healthcare, changing attitudes and other advances mean that increasingly we will see many more great careers extended and more stars lingering in the spotlight. A great thing of course but another thought springs to mind - is this particular generation of octogenarians special? I think so.

Go back to people like Attenborough and the Queen and think of their qualities: unfussy and unflappable, motivated by goals other than fame and money, a keen sense of duty, practical, uncomplaining, self-reliant and responsible. I may have kept my rose tinted specs on too long but I think we are seeing not just a triumph for good diet and medicine but evidence that growing up before the war instilled some of the best of human qualities in a generation.

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