Making the Most of Retirement

The fulfillment of enjoying life at your own pace
Story and photo by Pam Dillon

John and Judy McLellan’s Ottawa west-end home is full of light and life. Glance around and you’ll see toys here and there in the child-friendly household. You’re apt to find John up to his elbows in a woodworking project and Judy might have a baby on her lap or be ushering some teens in the door to come and have their lunch.

John is 76 and Judy is 70. They moved to the west-end suburb back in 1967, when there were less than 20 houses in a farmer’s field. “We used to have cows down at the end of the street,” Judy recalls. Their family has grown and changed right along with the community. Today there are five adult children, nine grandchildren and a lifestyle that includes a variety of interests and activities with the “kids.”

Their daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughters, Ariana and Kassia Makris, live close by. Two more of John and Judy’s kids and a couple of grandchildren also live right in the Ottawa area. For this couple, there’s a lot to enjoy in retirement. But John admits it took some time to adjust.

“While I have been officially retired for almost 18 years, I worked four days a week for a few years, then less time for the next three or four (years). In that time I also took a lengthy Year 2000 computer course.”

His work life was fulfilling and hard to give up. A Carleton University grad in mechanical engineering, he started out as a mechanical design engineer at Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, Commercial Products, moved on to the Canadian Government Specifications Board as a standards engineer and spent the rest of his career working for the Atomic Energy Control Board (now the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission). He says it was interesting and there was lots of foreign travel. Following formal retirement, John says,

“I was fortunate that due to staffing shortage in my specialized area, I could work in a technical job that required engineering experience, rather than in a supervisory capacity as I had done for a number of years before retirement.”

Even today, he adds, “I still meet monthly with one of my co-workers for lunch.”

For Judy, the transition to retirement was less drastic. As a teacher, she supplied occasionally, but mostly stayed home with the kids. “I volunteered at the school every day for 17 years,” she notes. Today, she likes to paint, sew, do crafts, read and even now, she mentions, “I particularly enjoy doing things with children.”

And there are plenty of opportunities. Ariana, 16, and Kassia, 12, are competitive synchronized swimmers, so their grandparents are often at the pool cheering them on. They also help out by driving them to and from practices and other activities. In addition to that, Judy, along with her daughter, Marnie, is also looking after the grandbabies – aged 21 months and three months.

“I love to have a baby to hold,” Judy grins. Since the high school is close by, Ariana drops in for lunch once a week with her friends and they have dinner with Marnie and her family about four times a week.

They also keep moving. “We try to keep fit,” John notes. And for him that means walking approximately five kilometers (three miles) a day with Marnie. “On the slippery and cold winter days, the walking program at the local sports dome is a Godsend. With two artificial hips, exercise is essential for me maintaining an independent lifestyle.”

Keen interests in woodworking, photography and computers also keep him quite active. A computer whiz with all the latest tech toys, he can build anything from dressers and book shelves to doll cradles. And his photography collection of 60,000 plus images gets updated regularly.

Both John and Judy say they enjoy the freedom retirement affords them.

“If it doesn’t get done today, then maybe tomorrow, and if not then the next day,” John explains. “At this stage in life, I only do what pleases me, what makes me happy – with the odd bit of housework,” Judy quips.

Now meet Millie Crozier. What is she up to? She’ll tell you “plenty.” She rhymes off what she’s cooking for an upcoming sports tournament: a turkey and dressing, three roasts of pork, two potato salads, two grape salads, homemade vegetable soup and her famous cluster cookies.

Millie is 87. Years ago, she was active in the workforce, as well as in social, volunteer and family activities. Those life habits haven’t waned. Today, the mother, grandmother and great-grandmother is matriarch of a big family, always dressed beautifully – and as full of beans as she was 20 or 30 years ago.

What Millie, John and Judy have in common – well into their retirement years – are a sense of purpose and a sense of belonging. They are needed; their skills and contributions are valued by others and they are regularly engaged in meaningful activities. That’s healthy. Not only is meaningful activity in retirement important for mental health, but researchers say it’s vital for anyone predisposed to early onset of dementia.

For these local seniors, an active lifestyle adds up to a vital, independent retirement.

As Judy puts it, “I do what I want to do and I have a good time doing it.”

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