What can a person who refuses to retire tell you about retirement?
In the past couple of years, 87-year-old Brenda Palmer has had a private meeting with Australia’s Prime Minister; rung the bell at the Sydney Stock Exchange (SSX); and spoken at a Coles Annual General Meeting (AGM).
That’s quite a resume for someone who works at the checkout at the Coles supermarket in Malvern—a suburb of Melbourne.
She’s an 87-year-old check-out ‘chick’ who has worked at the store since it opened 52 years ago.
Celebrating 50 years of employment
In July 2017, Coles celebrated Palmer’s 50 years with the company. She wanted it celebrated with ‘her’ customers because so many were talking to her about this milestone.
On the day there was morning tea with cake and hot drinks available for a couple of hours. Over lunch, in the staff room, ‘so many people turned up—old managers and people I’d worked with over the years,’ she says. ‘It was a wonderful day’.
She also received a gold badge from Coles for her service. She assures me it isn’t solid gold, but gold-dipped, and still quite heavy.
The memory of the day is tinged with sadness. ‘It was the last time I saw my grand-daughter alive. The following weekend, she passed away’.
Her granddaughter had been battling leukaemia and seemed to be in remission. Her death came as a shock.
Those other honours
She was featured at the Coles AGM in Perth as part of her 50 years celebration. She and her son were flown across for the occasion.
After the 50th anniversary, the Prime Minister’s office contacted her to do a video for his website. After seeing it she received an invitation to go to Canberra to meet with Malcolm Turnbull.
‘He was a thoroughly lovely gentleman. He treated me like he would treat his grandma. We had 20 minutes together in one of his private rooms.
‘We didn’t speak politics once. He spoke about his early childhood, his first job, and I told him about my first job. It was just great’.
Then, when the Wesfarmer/Coles stock demerger officially took place on November 28, 2018, she and Coles CEO, Stephen Cain, jointly rang the SSX bell at 11 am to declare that Coles shares were now available.
Back to the question
So, what can a person who refuses to retire tell you about retirement?
Palmer is often asked why she keeps working. ‘I say to people, “Why not?” My health is good. The company is quite happy for me to work on, so why not?’
She’s not working for the money she says, she’s doing it because she can—and she loves it. She works four hours, four days a week.
Her advice: ‘If you’re capable, work on’.
‘It’s silly to live every day thinking, “Won’t it be lovely to retire” because I know retired people who’ve told me, “You know it’s alright to be retired for a few months, but after that, you get terribly bored”’.
She admits other factors are involved in the decision whether to retire or not. Health is one of them. As is ‘whether you’re able to keep up with the technology of the job.’ She’s loved new technology and learning from it.
She also recognises that those ‘digging ditches’ who can’t physically do it anymore should retire. ‘I don’t think you can set any hard-and-fast rule or age about retirement’.
For herself, she sees benefits in continuing to work. ‘I’m still out and contributing to the public’ and, she adds with a laugh, ‘It gives you an excuse to get up in the morning’.
I first met Brenda Palmer about four years ago. I had interviewed her for my book Refusing to Retire and
created a post about her story and her attitude to retirement.
Margie, my wife, and I were in Malvern a week ago and, as we passed the Coles supermarket, we decided to go in and see if she was still there. We were surprised to find her at her checkout—the photo above was taken while we were there.
We were more surprised that she remembered Margie’s name without prompting. Her mind is still very sharp.