We found our passion in retirement

Retirement can be a time to reinvent your life, as Judy Robinson and Gwynneth Pedler discovered

Judy Robinson has just returned from a 16-mile bike ride around a local nature reserve. Today she was leading a group of female cyclists, all of whom were ‘a fair bit younger’ than Judy herself, who is now 80. 

Looking back, she finds it hard to believe that she’s been ‘retired’ for 20 years. ‘I didn’t feel old enough to retire,’ she says. ‘I’d raised a family and worked full-time at the tax office since I was 40, but once I reached 60, I had to retire. It’s strange to think I’ve been retired for as long as I was working.’

Judy’s experience is becoming increasingly familiar. As a nation, we’re living longer than ever, which makes the need to find meaning in retirement even more important.

For Judy, this process took time. She tried golfing, pottery, voluntary work and generally ‘keeping busy’, but finally found what she was looking for at the age of 70 – around the same time that her daughter Wendy was diagnosed with cancer. 

‘It was a dreadful time and I wanted to be there for Wendy whenever she needed me,’ recalls Judy. ‘I also knew I needed some kind of physical outlet myself but it had to be something I could do quickly and easily. 

I was always on my bike as a child, and when I heard about a female cycling group called Breeze (funded by The National Lottery), it sounded like just what I needed.’ 

Using a second-hand bike given to her by a former colleague, Judy set out to rediscover her old passion... and found it more than lived up to her expectations. Aged 75, she became a volunteer Breeze Champion, and has led hundreds of women-only cycling groups around her home town, Bradford. 

‘Fortunately, I’m in quite good health for my age,’ she adds. ‘I’ve got the usual creaky joints and cycle at a very leisurely speed now, but I still love leading groups. It’s fun, it’s sociable and it’s my way of giving back.’

Best of all, daughter Wendy, 53, sometimes comes along, too. ‘Wendy has taken early retirement on health grounds – but she’s doing well now. And we have shared interests, too, which is great.’

When Gwynneth Pedler retired from her job as a head teacher, she knew she wanted to continue teaching. Aged 70, she embarked on a new adventure – as a teacher in Poland.

‘A friend told me about this scheme run by the British Council and, at first, I had no interest in going to Poland at all,’ recalls Gwynneth. ‘But eventually I relented and filled in an application form. Once I’d done that, I hated the idea of being rejected! So when they took me on, I decided to go for a few months.’

Much to her surprise, Gwynneth found she really enjoyed living in Poland. ‘I had some wonderful, talented students, aged 14 to 19, and I found it really exciting. When I realised some of them had never been out of the country, I promised to arrange for them to come to the UK. It was one of the silliest promises I’ve ever made but, after some fundraising, I managed to pull it off,’ she laughs. ‘All 27 of them came to England and slept in tents provided by the Scouts... in my garden!’

Gwynneth continued teaching in Poland until, after being involved in a car accident, her health would no longer allow it. Aged 80, she had to come to terms with being disabled. ‘Teaching had been my cause, my passion. I loved it,’ she explains. ‘Now I had to find another cause.’

Gwynneth decided to put her skills to good use and became a disability campaigner. ‘I care passionately about the rights of disabled and elderly people to be treated as equal members of society,’ she says. ‘In some ways, what I do now is a continuation of what I’ve always done. I learn and then I pass on my knowledge and expertise to others.’ 

Aged 83, she was the oldest person in the UK to become a living statue on the famous Fourth Plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square. Aged 89, she gave a speech to the House of Lords on the importance of accessible transport for disabled people. Now aged 91, Gwynneth has no intention of taking it easy. ‘I firmly believe that whatever your age or ability, you can do anything you wish. I went paragliding to encourage older people to see that there are many opportunities to experience and enjoy. Life is full of adventure...if you want it.’

What are your views on retirement? Is it important to find a cause you care about, or can you be just as happy relaxing with a hobby?

Photos: Camera Press