AARP is making people feel old before their time

By Tom Joyce

October 5, 2013

Judging by the young and beautiful face in the picture accompanying this column, I’m sure readers will be shocked — shocked! — to learn that I am on the back-nine of age 50.

Yet since I’m a realist to the max, the idea of owning socks that are older that some of my co-workers doesn’t bother me at all. I have always believed that a person of any age should feel good about just being alive, no matter how long they have trod upon this earth. It sure beats the alternative.

On the other hand, I resent increasing efforts by some segments in our society to make people feel older than they really are. The poster child for this movement is none other than the AARP.

That organization has mounted a relentless campaign to have anyone with even a speck of gray in their hair labeled a senior citizen. Of course, it sends out those stupid membership cards to people once they hit the big 5-0, which on one hand can make the recipients believe they belong to some special fraternity.

On the other hand, getting such a card in the mail can make one feel — well, old — that is until you consider the real reason behind this gesture. It’s because the AARP exists for one thing, and that is to sell insurance. And when you are trying to sell something, you certainly don’t want to limit your pool of potential clients.

I can remember when someone had to be well into their 70s or 80s before they were considered “senior citizens.” Gradually that bar got lowered more and more, to where age 50 is now the magic number for purposes of the AARP.

I’m sure that over time, it will methodically try to lower the senior citizen threshold to 45, then to 40 and so on — the fact that the AARP is no longer officially known as the American Association of Retired Persons tells you all you need to know.

The traditional retirement age is 65, which is incompatible with the organization’s attempts to transform much younger people into seniors — simply so it can sell more insurance.

It’s bad enough influential organizations have used this ploy, but even more troubling that the AARP’s deviousness also has been embraced by other parts of our culture.

Take, for example, the Senior Games, which are open to anyone 55 or older.

Then there is the situation with the so-called senior citizen discounts, such as those offered at fast-food restaurants. What we have there is pimply-faced kids acting as geriatrics experts — judging who is and who is not a senior citizen when they show up at the counter.

Now, I’m not going to gripe about getting 10 percent off the cost of a food order, or coffee that costs less than normal, but just like the activities of the AARP this practice also is somewhat disingenuous, if not downright deceitful and insulting.

If big business really was sincere about this whole thing, senior citizen discounts would apply across the board — to gas, groceries and all other consumer items. For example, I bought a new vehicle during the summer, and it sure would have been nice to have gotten a discount on that.

The age thing really came into clear focus this week, however, when I wrote an article about Brack Llewellyn being appointed as the director of the Surry County Senior Centers.

Brack was enthusiastic about his new gig, mentioning during an interview that he always has enjoyed working with the older population. But he said something else that floored me. Brack added that he is part of that population, due to turning 60 in November.

First of all, I would never have guessed Brack is on the brink of 60 (although there is nothing at all wrong with this), but that his chronological age would have been much younger — based on his behavior. Brack is one of the most active and energetic people I know, given his outlook and attitude and many activities in community theater, as a storyteller, as host of the annual Quiz Bowl competition for high school students and others.

Which brings up the whole point of my column today: that being labeled a senior citizen, or “old,” should involve much more than one’s age or touch of gray. People shouldn’t feel that life has passed them by just because a date on the calendar says so, as long as they’ve got the energy to dance the night away or otherwise live life to the fullest.

One of my heroes is the Rev. Bob Josey, an avid runner who takes part in 5K races and mud runs all around the area. Now Bob has never told me his age — I would guess it’s somewhere in the 70s.

But I have personally witnessed Bob run all the way from the bottom of Pilot Mountain State Park to the top, and another of his feats is regularly running up Fancy Gap Mountain in Virginia from Cana to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Now how many 25-year-old punks could do that?

Whenever the question of age comes up, I am reminded of something said by Satchel Paige, the great Negro League baseball player who finally broke into the regular Major Leagues at age 42. That made him the oldest rookie in league history.

Paige was said to be unsure of his actual age, however, and when asked about it replied:

“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?”

Tom Joyce is a staff reporter for The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at 719-1924 or