This September 13, Shirley Miller Cohen celebrated her 90th birthday. This in itself is no longer unusual. People are living longer and many are healthy and active.
But this is different: Shirley has been a sales rep for The Senior Times for 25 years and she’s going strong. I met Shirley 25 years ago in a Creative Writing class at the Creative Social Center. Soon after, she joined our team and her dedication to the paper and her drive to sell advertising was apparent from the beginning.
Shirley is at work every day that she can be, when she is feeling good and when she is not in Toronto visiting her family, which includes her loving grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. “They fill up my life,” she says.
Shirley lives at the B’nai Brith House in Côte St. Luc. She moved in six years ago with her husband Marvin. He died four years ago. “What’s different is that I make all the decisions myself. We were married for 65 years.
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“I keep myself busy during the week but the weekends are lonely. I used to love to dress up and go out Saturday night. That’s what I miss the most. I try to go out with friends to plays and movies.”
A driver brings Shirley to our office on Monkland and back home again. Once she arrives, she’s all business, getting on the phone and calling her clients new and old.
“Coming to work makes me feel like I belong to the universe. I feel I’m part of the world, of what’s happening. That’s what stimulates me. I’m participating.” How does she relate to her colleagues?
“I hope that I can give my co-workers some sage advice.
I tell them to accept life and be happy with what they have.”
Her special contribution to The Senior Times is advertising from MNAs and MPs “including the prime minister.” She’s in touch with each of their offices on all holidays and Remembrance Day.
“I dove into it and one month I had 15 MNAs. And I find the other newspapers have followed my lead, but I was the first.
Shirley received a congratulatory letter from Jacques Chagnon on her birthday.
“Dear Mrs. Cohen,
On this very special day, your 90th birthday, I would like to extend to you my warmest wishes for health, joy, prosperity and that all your dreams
You have been a steadfast member of The Senior Times team for the past 25 years. My riding office staff speaks of you with great admiration and respect for your positive, hard-working and insistent yet endearing salesmanship.
Wishing you all the best today, and may you always be surrounded by those who love and appreciate you.”
I could not have said it better myself. Shirley has been like a mother. She’s my confidante and my advisor. She has a way of letting people know that she doesn’t take sides, but that she’s on their side. And she’s always there for me, in good times and in bad, letting me know how much she enjoys every issue and finding something specific to say about the quality of the articles and photos.
On the days when Shirley is in Toronto or not feeling well, the office is not the same. And when I come in and see her on the phone or talking to our graphic designer about art work or eating her lunch at the conference table, all is well at The Senior Times.
She’s also active in her residence, B’nai Brith House, giving poetry readings for her fellow residents. “I’m leading a group of 20 residents and I ask them to participate. They bring something to read that they’ve written, a poem or a short story or something they read that they find interesting. I find that stimulates them.”
In the past year, Shirley says she has written 20 poems. “They are about life,” she says, “and love.”
Her latest poem “Behind Closed Doors” came from looking out her window. “I saw an apartment and I thought ‘people live there! And then I define living.” I wrote: “Behind closed doors is a universe.”
It’s not typical to be living in a residence and still working. What do the other residents have to say about her career?
“They always say they wish they were out in the world.”
Shirley says she doesn’t really think much about how unusual it is to be working at 90. “My kids say I’m nuts. They say I should relax.”
“I say, when I’m ready, I’ll let you know….They also say they don’t like it when I wear red lipstick or red boots. So I say, ‘when I need you, I’ll call you.’”
We’re so lucky to have you, Shirley, and we look forward to many years to come! Happy Birthday!
Your colleagues paid you this compliment: “The office is not the same without you in it! You bring light and humour and life to all of us!”
Utopia — so glad I’m here
Where morning peace ascends the heavens
And the delicious sun warms the earth
Where waters shimmer with diamonds
And orange blossoms have you singing
Where the wind conducts the orchestra of birds
And flowers sway to the music
Where nature’s choir picks up the melody
And trees sway to the music.
You can touch the stars and the moon
They are within our reach
Where pleasures abound
This is Utopia.
So glad I’m here.
— Shirley Cohen