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5 Role Models to Help Us Cope with the Pandemic

How do you dig deep to withstand the ongoing stress and requirements of life during a pandemic? Look to the role models: seniors. Seniors have a depth of experience confronting crises and using creative problem-solving skills that summon the higher instincts of the human spirit. They have experience showing up. They reached within to draw on character and integrity, and learned what it means to come through a recovery. From the Great Depression to World War II to 9/11, they did what was needed. Right now, they can be a fountain of hope. 

There are countless examples of people who had to switch to plan B and not only survived, but thrived — and some of them have spent their lives in the spotlight and the headlines. The surprise is that instead of resting on their laurels and enjoying the fruits of a long career, these senior superstars are still going strong. Retired or still working, they’re also giving back, supporting important causes both with their resources and their activism. 

We can all use inspiration right now. Look to these role models still leading the way:

Itzhak Perlman overcame the ravages of polio to become a globally renowned concert violinist. Born in 1945, he contracted polio at the age of four, which left him partially paralyzed. Despite this, he gave his first public concert at ten, enrolled in Juilliard at thirteen, and has performed the entire classical repertoire. The exquisite attention to detail in his technique has earned him the rare accolade of virtuoso. And he gives back: in 1998, he and his wife co-founded the Perlman Music Program for gifted string musicians from 12 to 18.

In 2009, Glenn Close’s nephew, Calen, was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. He was eighteen. Their strong and supportive family learned about mental health and they stood with him, offering love and encouragement. Eventually, Calen found recovery. Then Ms. Close’s sister Jessie — Calen’s mother — was diagnosed in her late forties with bipolar disorder. She had lived almost to middle age without a diagnosis. Hand in hand with Jessie, the actress founded a nonprofit called Bring Change to Mind, “to end the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness.” At 73 the Emmy winner sustains a highly successful career, as well as her mission to bring mental illness out into the open.   

As a young boy, Warren Buffett had extraordinary math skills; now he’s one of the ten richest men in the world. Known for his frugal lifestyle, he uses his wealth for good. He’s a supporter of GLIDE in San Francisco, which supports the needy with 2,000 meals served every day and a range of social services. He also supports Girls, Inc., which provides high-risk girls with recreational and educational programs that help alleviate hardships and misfortune. As he approaches his 90th birthday, Mr. Buffett greets each day with considerable vigor and a habit of making the world better.

Dame Judi Dench, born in 1934, made her first appearance on stage as a snail in a Junior School play. She has garnered awards and honors throughout her distinguished career. Queen Elizabeth appointed her a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. She’s also an ambassador for the Hope Foundation, which helps to restore basic human rights for the street children of Kolkata, India.  

Once you see Frank Gehry’s architectural work, you will be able to recognize his style. He is often described as the most important modern architect in the world. He revolutionized his profession by treating each project as “a sculptural object, a spatial container.” At 90, he is an active partner in his firm, Gehry Partners. Since 2016 Mr. Gehry has been part of the George Soros Open Society Foundation study on criminal justice reform. He introduced prison design to students at SCI-Arc and the Yale School of Architecture.

Matilda Raffa Cuomo is a bold and intense advocate for women, children, and families. Service is the cornerstone of her life. When her husband, Mario Cuomo, was the NY Governor, she established Mentoring USA, which has grown to national and international status today. Designed to prevent students from dropping out of high school and boost their success, not just in school, but in work and life, the program has paired together 10,000 students and trained mentors. She will be 89 in August and has not “retired” her activism — and she continues to inspire her sons, current NY Governor Andrew Cuomo (who signed “Matilda’s Law” to protect those over 70) and CNN journalist Chris Cuomo.

We’re living in a time of longevity as well as uncertainty — and being able to live with ambiguity and unpredictability is undoubtedly a skill developed throughout a long life. So as we look for answers, we ought to look to our seniors. These five are just a handful of the senior newsmakers who turned their success into advocacy and activism. But there are many all around us, whether in the spotlight or next door. 

5 Role Models to Help Us Cope with the Pandemic


BJ Kittredge

BJ Kittredge is a retired consultant to the healthcare industry. She began her career as a public school teacher and curriculum developer. She was the first Director of Training and Development in the member services division of US Healthcare, and was involved in management and IT training, communications, and performance evaluation systems. With Dr. Thelma Reese, she is the co-author of the new book, How Seniors Are Saving the World: Retirement Activism to the Rescue!


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APA Reference
Kittredge, B. (2020). 5 Role Models to Help Us Cope with the Pandemic. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 30, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/5-role-models-to-help-us-cope-with-the-pandemic/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 9 Jun 2020 (Originally: 9 Jun 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 9 Jun 2020
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.