Mary Anne O'Neill
Mary Anne O'Neill is the typical grandmother of the 21st century. During a standard week she attends city council meetings (she was re-elected for a 5th term at the age of 78); teaches human sexuality classes to seniors; collects dues as her homeowner's association treasurer; works out with her Wii; teaches crochet techniques to her class; plays bridge with friends; walks her two dogs; and plays with her three grandchildren in her intergenerational household, where her daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren live with her.
Mrs. O'Neill's approach to the second half of life is far different than her first. A young widow and mother to two children, she returned to college at the age of 52, earning her bachelor's degree in social science and master's degree in counseling. Much of the second half of her life has been spent educating people about human sexuality.
"I was so far behind in understanding human sexuality," she explains. "When I asked my mother where babies came from, she just shrugged." Mrs. O'Neill's goal is "to free people with knowledge regarding human sexuality."
Mrs. O'Neill taught human sexuality with the Department of Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute. "During the Clinton administration there was talk about the military being open to all gays. My department taught people to counteract discrimination." Mrs. O'Neill's approach was creative and effective. "I was teaching military officers and brought in friends who were gay: doctors, and lawyers, to break the gay stereotype." She’ll never forget the general who shared the realization, "Why, they are people, just like us."
Mrs. O'Neill shares some of her insights on aging and human sexuality:
How would you describe your philosophy on aging?
O'Neill: I have one phrase I repeat to myself: "any day above ground is a good one." I believe every day is a new opportunity and presents its own challenges.
O'Neill: Learn something every day. The book I'm reading right now, Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth is teaching me about cathedrals.
What would you say is the most meaningful part of aging?
O'Neill: I realize that every older person does not have grandchildren to appreciate. I have three that live with me. I appreciate being able to see them grow up and mature.
Your best advice on aging?
O'Neill: Don't fight it. My parents were active until the day they died. Stay active. I have a friend 10 years younger than me that sits at home and watches television all day. It's depressing. Stay active! Keep your mind active.
Any wisdom on aging and sexuality?
O'Neill: It doesn’t go away--the desire is there. People are sexual as long as they live.