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WHEN A PERSON REACHES THE AGE OF 98, the thinking is that they should be grateful for the life they’ve had and be preparing to meet their maker. But that’s not the case with Ralph Packer Parris.
Yes, he’ll tell you that at 98, he’s lived probably more than a lot of people. He’s been married, is now a widower, raised four children, now has the privilege of being with his grandchildren, been a stalwart in industrial relations in Barbados and has travelled the world. But Ralph isn’t eager to go quietly into that good night.
Most days, when he’s not reading, a pastime he revealed that he thoroughly enjoys, he’s spending his time on the computer.
“Three hours a day is what I usually spend on the computer,” Ralph said. “I cannot spend a long time because sitting for long hours is uncomfortable.”
One might be wondering what a 98-year-old, who doesn’t use glasses when using the computer but only for seeing at a distance, be doing tinkering with technology at this stage of his life.
“I search the web a lot and correspond with friends,” he says. “Nowadays I mostly play games on
it . . . . I have a lot of time to kill. Sometimes I’ll communicate with my grandchildren by email. I’m not really looking for how to build bombs – I’m mostly killing time.”
Ralph admits that computers weren’t around in his day when he was in his prime. Luckily his grandson taught him to use the computer and remedied any technological deficiencies he had.
“My grandson has a Master’s in forensic information technology,” he said. “He got me this computer and set me up with passwords.”
“I have dial-up,” he says of his Internet access. “I just haven’t bothered to get the high-speed Internet access – why should I waste my money?
Watching Ralph on the computer is witnessing someone who has defied his age. Even his ability to type quickly is something you wouldn’t expect from someone his age.
“I used to be able to type a lot faster than I do now,” he says of the nimbleness of his fingers. “It wasn’t no one-finger nothing.”
But when you hear the work Ralph has done over the years, it’s easy to understand why he has embraced technology when some who are younger than him have not.
Ralph worked at the Barbados Hilton as a personnel and training manager and later became a human resources consultant.
“I was Frank Walcott’s personal assistant for many years,” he said. “I built the first hard runway for planes to land in Barbados. I was the secretary for the Barbados Public Workers’ Union and brought the teachers into that union. I was the labour commissioner of St Kitts and lived in St Lucia and St Vincent.
With such a diverse and impressive résumé, one would think that Ralph would be boastful, but for him it was just who he was.
“I don’t know about pride,” he said. “I was just an ordinary person doing the best I know how.”