Never Too Old‘A sweet little old lady, I am not!’ Olive Bryanton, 81, is working hard to get a PhD and help change the world for older women living in her rural community. NOW STREAMING ON CBC GEM
Never Too Old follows 81-year-old PhD candidate Olive Bryanton as she navigates through the final year of her doctoral program at the University of Prince Edward Island.
According to Bryanton, more than half of older adults live in rural communities on P.E.I., and she believes that the services they need aren’t there. She knows that governments don’t create policies without research. So, at the age of 76, she decided to head back to school with a plan to study how older women are ageing in rural P.E.I.
She recruited 10 women — all rural islanders 85 and over— to participate in a “photovoice” study, and shine a spotlight on the often overlooked and under-appreciated lives of older rural women. Bryanton asked them to take pictures of things that either supported or limited their ability to age where they wanted to age. She hopes her research will inspire programs and services that will allow these older women to stay in the communities they love. But there are bumps in the road on her academic journey. While she’s a lifelong activist with plenty of passion, Bryanton has never liked writing and struggles with procrastination.
In Never Too Old, we meet Bryanton’s research subjects, including Theresa, 91, who still mows her own lawn on her John Deere tractor; Anna, 88, who raised 10 children but now has a $27-per-month pension, highlighting the discrimination women of her generation experience; Ruby, 87, who — with a sharp wit — takes on the “little old lady” stereotype by shopping on her own for a new car; and Nan, 89, an artist who thinks it’s ridiculous to assume that people stop being sexual at a certain age. Through their photographs and stories, the women illustrate what aging is really like for them in rural P.E.I.
Bryanton was born in 1936, also in rural P.E.I., to an unwed mother. She was raised in an intergenerational household with the help of her grandparents who were ahead of their time: there was no gender division in terms of labour in her family, and Bryanton was raised to believe in herself. Her great-grandparents also lived just down the road, so she was surrounded by positive older role models — in Bryanton’s world, no one complained about ageing. This helped set the course for her adult life and advocacy.
But the film reveals how Bryanton’s strong beliefs may be making her doctoral journey more difficult. “Although I believe I am writing about what the women told me, maybe unconsciously I’m still trying to say, ‘Look, this is what [these] women are doing. They’re not a burden on society. Why can’t you see that?’” she says. Her thesis committee recommends she go beyond just showing that older people are living independently to articulate what the 10 women have told her about their needs, then distill meaning from their experiences.
Regardless of age, a PhD is a marathon that around half who begin never finish, and Bryanton has a lot of work and self-reflection to do. But she demonstrates what is possible if you don’t let ageist ideas rule your life. Never Too Old, by tracking Bryanton’s journey, makes it clear that there is no age limit on potential.