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Retiree says, ‘Use it, don’t lose it’

Mission College alum Edward Woods is an advocate for seniors on state and local panels.

Edward Woods has great advice for people planning to retire: Find a passion in life and pursue it as a second career.

That’s exactly the path that Woods followed. Even at age 71 following a second retirement, he remains active on behalf of senior citizens and as a member of two Mission College advisory panels.

"The only part of me that’s retired is the ‘tired’ part," he likes to joke. "But I just keep going, like the Energizer bunny."

Before his first retirement, Woods worked for 30 years as a merchandising manager and designer in the highly competitive fashion industry in New York and Los Angeles. In his late fifties, Woods decided he wanted to do something less hectic, and at the same time help others. The death of his father helped him decide.

Woods had returned to New York when he learned that his 93-year-old father was ill. The father, who eventually died after surgery, had always enjoyed good health and lived alone. Woods’ visit to his father’s apartment gave him a glimpse of the daily challenges his father faced.

"It made me very aware of the need for care and attention that older people like my dad, living alone, have," he said. "Even when there’s family around, seniors can fall through the cracks and a lot of their needs go unmet."

Still looking for a second career at the time, he said "…A light bulb just sort of clicked in my head. I began researching gerontology programs and I said, ‘This is what I want to do.’ "

Woods was referred to Mission College, where he met with gerontology department heads Eloise Cantrell and Sandi Lampert. He was sold on the program and two years later, he had earned a certificate in Gerontology. After graduating, Woods went to work as social services director at a Van Nuys health care center with many Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.

"I spent a great deal of time with the families in that job," he said. "So many of them were devastated by their parents’ condition and required a lot of therapy themselves."

Woods works closely with Laura Trejo, general manager of the L.A. City Department of Aging.

After six years, Woods retired again. Sort of. Turns out, he’s just as active as ever as the president of the Council of Aging for the City of Los Angeles and as a Senior Assembly Member of the California Senior Legislature. Both positions put him in the role of advocate and unpaid lobbyist for senior citizens. Woods is also a member of the Mission College Citizens’ Oversight Committee for Proposition A / AA and of the college’s Gerontology program advisory panel.

Given current economic and health care trends, Woods thinks everyone who is within a few years of retirement should consider a second career – preferably doing something they love. A hobby or interest, like art or music, may translate into a part-time job somewhere, he said. And community college is ideal for seniors because it does not require four years of study for certification, he added.

Even more than economics, people on the verge of retirement should think about the quality of life they may face after they walk away from their careers, he believes.

"Unless you love golf or fishing, a lot of retirees wind up as couch potatoes in front of their TV’s all day," he said. "And that leads to poor health and depression."

His advice to seniors: Be active, help others, stay involved, and, above all, keep your mind stimulated.

"I’m a big believer that if you use it, you won’t lose it."

– BY EDUARDO PARDO / Photos: Lydia Chung