The Duke of Edinburgh & the contribution of 'super seniors'

By The Rt Revd Graham James - 05 May 2017
A picture of the Duke of Edinburgh
Not many people announce their retirement from formal duties as they approach their 96th birthday. The news from Buckingham Palace yesterday that the Duke of Edinburgh will cease to carry out royal engagements seemed to catch even the keenest royal watchers by surprise. Perhaps that’s because Prince Philip has been part of the fabric of our nation so long. Even now he has not said he will do nothing. No-one seems less likely to want empty days. But what a relief it must be to choose what to do and when.

Earlier this week at Lords’ Cricket Ground Prince Philip quipped again that he was the world’s most experienced plaque un-veiler. But he has been so much more than that. The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme has created opportunities for a vast number of young people, discovering abilities they scarcely knew they possessed. Prince Philip has been an innovator, always wanting ancient institutions to adapt for changing times.

Perhaps though, one of the greatest contributions both the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh have made in recent years has been to confound our expectations of those in much later life.

In the Bible “the years of our life” are described as “three score years and ten” or “if our strength endures, even four score”. At least two and a half thousand years have passed since those words were written, but it’s only in recent decades that life expectancy has increased so significantly. Lengthy experience of life is of value in itself. Job asks “Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?” Our anxieties about pensions or the onset of dementia sometimes make us regard our increasing longevity as a social problem rather than something to celebrate. We do need to rethink our attitude.

Over the years we’ve tried to ensure a higher number of women, those from ethnic minorities and younger people are found among our members of parliament and in other institutions. Rarely, though, has anyone argued for the presence of what we may call “super seniors”. I suspect that’s because we think that the older people are, the more entrenched their views become. That’s not been my experience, especially among those who are very active in their eighties and nineties. They don’t always think things were better in the past, but often inhabit a new freedom of mind and spirit. This is a good day to celebrate not just what the Duke of Edinburgh has given to this nation but the contribution of super seniors everywhere.

This blog is an adapted transcript from a BBC Radio 4 Thought for the Day, broadcast on Friday 5 May 2017 by The Rt Revd Graham James, Bishop of Norwich. To listen to and read more Thought for the Day features, please visit the BBC website.

Leave a comment