In a recent blog post we explored what was involved in achieving an empowered retirement with Kamal Basra, but what does living an empowered retirement actually look like? For Jennifer Wade, who is 83 and long since retired as an English teacher, it is more than just having the financial freedom to live comfortably. It is about standing up for what you believe while helping those in need and those facing injustices who are often unable to speak for themselves.
“There is always something you can do.”
“There is always something you can do,” says Jennifer as she serves freshly baked blueberry cake and ice cream in her lush backyard garden surrounded by tall walnut trees, rhubarb seedlings waiting to be transplanted, and various fruit-bearing trees and bushes that she lovingly planted long ago. “I picked the blueberries earlier,” says Jennifer as we chat about her family, and how proud she is of her children (two sons and a foster daughter) and grandchildren. With her bright blue eyes and old-fashioned hospitality, she immediately puts you at ease and you think, so this is what living an empowered retirement looks like. You live in your own home with an amazing garden, have a lovely family who dotes on you, with grandchildren you adore, and you make your own schedule while living your life your way.
Looks, however, can be deceiving. There is so much more to Jennifer than days spent baking and tending to her garden and being a kind and gracious host. As a child in India, she met Mahatma Gandhi and several years later she met the Queen. Jennifer was involved with the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s where she met Coretta Scott and Martin Luther King among many other civil rights leaders. After moving to Vancouver, she had lunch with the Dali Lama. She also co-founded Amnesty International Vancouver, which she is still actively involved with and continues to champion human rights issues locally and around the world.
“You cannot underestimate what a small thing like writing a letter can do.”
Jennifer is steadfast in her beliefs and remains a relentless justice advocate who is not afraid of standing up for what she believes—even when it means receiving death threats or being investigated by the RCMP and FBI. However, these days much of her advocacy work shows up in the form of what Jennifer jokingly refers to as her “ministry of letters.”
According to Jennifer, “You cannot underestimate what a small thing like writing a letter can do.” She writes an average of 20 letters a week, always with the aim of giving a voice to those who cannot speak up for themselves—like Leonard Peltier who is currently in a prison in the States for a crime Jennifer and many others believe he did not commit. “I am very careful with my wording and I make sure my facts are correct,” says Jennifer who has won several awards for her activism including the Order of British Columbia, the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, the Sovereign’s Medal, the Renate Shearer Award, the Civic Merit Award, and the BC Civil Liberties Reg Robson Award. She has also received Honorary Degrees from the University of New Brunswick, the University of Vancouver Island, and most recently, an Honorary Doctor of Laws from Simon Fraser University.
“It is a privilege to have old age, to grow old and give back.”
Jennifer gets impatient with people who say there is nothing they can do. “It is a privilege to have old age, to grow old and give back. Retirement is a time to speak out and to do things for others.” Even with all of her advocacy work and acts of community service, she has found the time and money to set up several educational awards. “Never think you have too little money or not enough time. There is always something you can do.” Jennifer currently manages and funds several scholarships and awards of varying amounts in local colleges and universities as well as in New Brunswick. To date, close to 150 educational awards have been distributed to students. Jennifer makes time to meet with each of the recipients whenever possible and a few have kept in touch with her over the years.
Since establishing the first awards in 1996 with a modest inheritance from a cousin, Jennifer has managed to increase the number of awards to 16 annually through her own careful financial planning and support from family and friends.
As we wrap up the interview, Jennifer smiles and says, “I am not a woman of wealth but whatever extra I have, I would like to contribute to the community and give back to someone else.” As I then prepare to leave, she gives me three of her rhubarb seedlings and says, “I am just living an ordinary life.” Perhaps from her perspective, her life appears ordinary, but in my eyes, she is living it in the most extraordinary way. She is truly living an empowered retirement.