Downs on Aging

HughDowns 140In January of this year, I had the pleasure of spending a couple of hours with Hugh Downs, along with 35 fellow members of The Society. The Society is a 20 year old think tank group of multidisciplinary aging professional that meets twice a year. One of our members had served as a consultant to Downs when he anchored Over Easy, the first Prime Time TV show devoted to aging. The 91 year old media professional was invited to share his thoughts on aging with the group in Mesa, Arizona near his home, which was a WOW moment for all.

He opened with the general observation that, "There is wisdom and insight that comes with accumulated life." This was said in a dialogue totally devoid of ego. In fact, he observed, "If Joe Smith wants to bask in the amber glow of 'Joe Smithness' forever, he will die of boredom." To Downs, every day is different and he basks in the possibilities, "As you get older there are horizons that shrink and horizons that stay the same, and, unquestionably, horizons that expand as one uses the mind."

We were not listening to a celebrity so much as an elder willing to share his life experience. When asked about his experience with Over Easy, he stated, "I never knew then how much I would know about aging...The human spirit has an amazing capacity for finding silver linings. Stephen Hawking, commenting on the limitations of his paralysis, said, 'I'm able to spend every waking moment thinking about theoretical physics!'" In other words, you can choose to focus on your problems or focus on the positive and how to do incredible things with the talents you have regardless of the barriers you encounter. In support of this observation, research indicates that those choosing the positive path live an average of 7.6 years longer than pessimists.

Downs is now entering his 10th decade and celebrated his 90th birthday entertaining his great grandchildren doing aerial stunts in his glider. When asked what an average day was like, he responded, "There is no average day for me." What a great way to approach what has regrettably come to be known as retirement. Maybe we can all take away the lesson that life is not about what happens to you but what you do with what happens to you and around you.

If there was an insightful take away message, it was in relation to the media's negative portrayal of age and ageism to which he observed, "It is so awful to be prejudiced against a group that you will become a part of."
Hugh Malcolm Downs (born February 14, 1921) is a long-time American broadcaster, television host, news anchor, TV producer, author, game show host, and music composer. He is perhaps best known for his role as co-host of the NBC News program Today from 1962 to 1971, and anchor of the ABC News magazine 20/20 from 1978 to 1999. In addition, he served as announcer/sidekick for Tonight Starring Jack Paar, host of the PBS talk show Over Easy, the first Prime Time program on Aging.