For Gwen, who lives in Bolton Clarke’s Carrington residential community at Parkinson, south of Brisbane, learning new things is the key ingredient for a great year.
At 71, the self-confessed “compulsive studier” and mature age university student already boasts no less than five qualifications across nursing, teaching, piano, horticulture and arts and is currently working towards a Masters in Psychology.
Gwen counts 1995 among her best years. It’s the year she graduated from her Bachelor of Arts degree despite significant challenges including spending six months temporarily blind.
“I always reach for the stars,” she says. “I reach as high as I can, I don’t reach halfway. I reach for the very top. I’ve always got to get the best out of myself.”
Born in Paisley, Scotland in 1947, she came to Australia with her Scottish father and Australian mother, learning to walk on the ship.
She grew up in Maryborough, Queensland, left school at 16 to pursue a nursing career and finished her training at St Andrew’s Hospital in Brisbane.
“But when I went back home, I didn’t want to do nursing, all I wanted to do was play piano,” Gwen says.
She set about finishing her piano grades and completed a teaching degree in music in her 20s. Degrees in Horticulture and Arts followed in her 30s and 40s respectively.
With the Bachelor of Arts under her belt, Gwen managed restaurants and then worked at Brisbane newspaper The Courier Mail for 10 years.
“The morning after I retired, I sat down with a glass of wine to write a bucket list of sorts. I never did drink the wine, I was so full of ideas.
“The next day, when I got out of bed, I crumpled to the floor.”
She spent the next two months in hospital with no clear diagnosis, and a dire prognosis.
“I was losing weight rapidly. I was very sick but I was determined not to die.
“I was told to go into care and after living elsewhere for a while, that is how I came to be at Bolton Clarke Carrington.”
Eventually, she was diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy, a neurological condition that has left her with no feeling from the knees down. Gwen now uses a wheelchair to keep up her busy schedule.
“I decided to pursue my Masters after I was inspired by a lady I saw on the news. She had dementia, and she had completed a degree – even though it took her a long time to finish, because she kept forgetting what she had learnt. I figured, if she could do it – so could I!”
In addition to her studies she has returned to an earlier, more creative passion – painting.
“I was in another aged care community and they were teaching art, but it was basically colouring in. So I asked the teacher for a blank canvas and my son bought me some acrylic paints, and that was six years ago.
“In those six years, I’ve developed the painting style that I have now.
“I like people to look at my paintings and wonder where that road goes to, or what’s behind that mist – they have real feeling in them.”
Gwen is looking forward to getting through her current batch of assignments so that she can return to her art.
“I’m craving time to paint. I don’t like to stop and start a painting, so I need a few solid weeks.”
In her spare time, she is setting goals for the year ahead.
“I hope to graduate with a Graduate Diploma Psychology in October next year as the next step towards my Masters. I will be going to Melbourne for the graduation, and my goal is to walk unassisted across the stage to accept my degree.”
Read more about Bolton Clarke’s ongoing work supporting wellbeing and independence in our 2018 Year in Review.