Sun | Jun 16, 2019

Tony Deyal | No country for old men

Published:Saturday | March 2, 2019 | 12:10 AM

Old soldiers never die – only their privates. Old bankers never die, they just lose interest. Old investors never die, they just cash out. Old lawyers never die, first they lose their appeal and then lose their briefs.

Listening to the many, sometimes sick jokes, quips and puns, one thing you learn as you age is that with or without Tommy Lee Jones on your trail, this is no country for old men.

LIAT, the airline notorious for its delays and lost baggage – known to many as ‘Leaving Islands Any Time’ or ‘Long Intervals Awaiting Transport’, and to me in my days of covering the Caribbean as ‘Lord, I Am Tired’ – proved how true this is when it fired William Cherubin, an employee with 47 years of service, in June 2015.

Cherubin, who started as a ticket agent in St Croix in 1968, was among employees who were offered a retirement package in 2011. Essentially, the deal was you take the money and we take your job. He wanted to keep working so he refused.

According to Caribbean News Service, four years later LIAT dropped the boom on Cherubin and packed him up. Fired without notice! Cherubin decided to fight and took LIAT to court in the Virgin Islands where the law prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of age.

Cherubin’s case was that LIAT’s reason for firing him was his age. He was 70 at the time and LIAT assigned his responsibilities to a younger manager.

However, this time for acting too early instead of being its usual tardy self, LIAT was found to have unlawfully discriminated against Cherubin and the jury awarded him damages totalling US$1,551,320.

Victor Colianni, Cherubin’s lawyer, made a point that resonates with me and would be welcome to people my age. “LIAT fired a man who worked there for 47 years and essentially threw him out the door with no notice simply because he was, in their mind, too old to do his job even though he was doing his work competently and well. They judged him on the basis of age and not his performance, and they made up reasons for firing him that we proved to the jury were false.”

The win by Cherubin against not just a heartless employer, but a trend of discrimination against older people is like the speech one senior citizen gave about ‘Sex For Older People’.

When it was his turn to speak he got up, smiled at the audience and said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure…”

Then he sat down... .”

In the rest of the Caribbean, unlike the Virgin Islands, we are generally put down or sent to pasture at the ripe old age of 60.

I understand that Trinidad is considering raising the retirement age to 65, not because it knows that as people age and accumulate experience, sending them home leaves organisations without institutional memories or mentors, but because it so screwed up the national insurance ‘scheme’ that it is rapidly going bust and soon won’t be able to pay those who contributed and are forced to retire when they reach 60.

THERE IS LIFE AFTER 80

What bugs me are statements like, “Older people should be forced to retire at a certain age because the world is steadily changing and their knowledge becomes outdated,” or “I’m sorry to say it so bluntly, but older people need to realise their turn is over, and newer, fresher blood is needed.”

It is interesting that many of the Caribbean politicians who are long past retirement age continue to support laws that discriminate against older people. There are old men who proved that there is life, work and things to be done after 80.

n At 94, George Burns, the comedian, performed at Proctor’s Theater in New York, 63 years after he first played there.

n Martin Miller, at 97, was working as a full-time lobbyist for senior citizens.

n At 92, Paul Spangler completed his 14th marathon.

n The famous child-rearing expert, Dr Benjamin Spock, was arrested in Florida at the age of 83 for demonstrating on behalf of world peace.

n I.F. Stone, the journalist, published his bestseller, The Trial of Socrates, at the age of 81.

Consider what we would have lost had they been forced to stop at 60.

English television personality, Johnny Ball, now 81, pointed out, “Discrimination due to age is one of the great tragedies of modern life. The desire to work and be useful is what makes life worth living, and to be told your efforts are not needed because you are the wrong age is a crime.”

I hear many jokes that put us old men down.

One friend said, “Old age for a man is when he has been out with a girl all night and the only thing that comes is daylight.”

Another told me, “There are four stages to old age: You forget names. You forget faces. You forget to zip up. You forget to zip down.”

But then along comes one that revives our spirits and make us forget that some of us are like a dog chasing a car – if we catch it we can’t drive it.

A woman, well into her 60s, was feeling ill and after a series of tests the doctor told her, “Mrs Barber, medically impossible though it seems at your age, there’s no doubt that you’re pregnant.”

“Impossible!” she screamed and fainted.

When she revived, she went straight to the phone, dialled her 82-year-old husband, and shouted, “You’ve made me pregnant, you dirty old man!”

There was a long pause at the other end of the line, and then her husband asked, “And to whom am I speaking?”

Tony Deyal was last seen quoting baseball great Satchel Page, who at 47 still made the All-Star team. He said, “Age is a case of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.” Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com