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Stellar speakers put first forums in fine form

Published December 23, 2003

[Times photo: Dirk Shadd]
Speakers for the Seniority Forum in St. Petersburg included, from left, Ethel Sharp, Sheila Stoll, Gregory Gay, Sara Fritz (background), Sally Anderson, Laverne Hammond, Tom Valeo and Frank Kaiser. Among the topics discussed during the forum were Medicare, Social Security taxes, caregiving and senior activism.
Barbara Gillis addresses a member of the panel at the forum in downtown St. Petersburg.   photo
[Times photo: Dirk Shadd]

[Times photo: Daniel Wallace]
Columnist Sally Anderson got the audience warmed up with several stretching exercises during the forum in Brooksville.

It's good when the year can end on a positive note - be it personal or professional. We are ending on a very good note with the first Seniority Forum tucked neatly in the history books. The forums, an informal meeting with the editor and columnists of Seniority, were Dec. 9 in St. Petersburg and Dec. 10 in Brooksville.

To those who attended, thank you. It was good to meet you and to hear your thoughts on issues that you deem important. To those who had tickets but did not attend, you missed an opportunity to hear dynamite speakers discuss everything from Medicare to elder care, not to mention win a passel of fabulous door prizes.

It's no surprise that Medicare was the topic du jour generating the most interest from the audience at both forums. We were fortunate to have Sara Fritz, the Times' Washington, D.C., bureau chief, as our special guest and expert in this area.

Fritz, who has been tracking Congress' actions and the evolution of the Medicare prescription drug bill, explained some of the intricacies of the law and the short- and long-term effects it could have on seniors. Fritz told seniors not to hit the panic button yet, but she also urged them to continue reading and educating themselves on what to expect when the law takes effect in 2006.

Lawyer Gregory Gay's brief but insightful discussion on Social Security and Medicare taxes and disability insurance was priceless. As an elder law specialist, Gay presented several key issues that will affect seniors in 2004 and beyond.

Fans of Sheila Stoll and Laverne Hammond were treated to heartwarming stories about why living in the moment is best and why some challenges are worth the risk. Mrs. Hammond, who is 90, is proof positive that a mind and body that remain engaged can be a force at any age. Stoll's spirited wit and gifted comments on aging showed that seniors can set a course that leads to adventure, from the Wahoo Lizard Ranch near the Withlacoochee River to a home in Switzerland, but also can find happiness in the everyday. She even brought along "Darling Husband."

If "Suddenly Senior" columnist Frank Kaiser isn't thinking about running for political office, maybe he should. His call for "geezers" to get off their duffs, get involved and help save the country was worthy of any stump speech. Kaiser's message that seniors have a voice that must be heard is important any time.

Those who thought the forum would be the place for a quick siesta were out of luck. Fitness writer Sally Anderson led the audience through a series of simple stretching and breathing routines. As Anderson said, a little exercise can go a long way to promote good health.

That message was underscored when "Body of Information" columnist Tom Valeo discussed why some seniors live long and age well, and why others become frail and prone to illness. The answer, Valeo said, who talked to doctors and other health care professionals, is that no one knows for certain, but a reasonable explanation lies amid genes, a healthy diet and lifestyle, and a positive mental outlook.

Ethel Sharp's focus on caregivers and care receivers is a topic that almost everyone can relate to. And as the baby boomer rolls continue to swell, Sharp emphasized the importance of strengthening family ties and creating a support team that can be rallied in case of an emergency. Help is available for families in crisis, Sharp said, and no one need face a serious illness or death alone.

As the editor, I would like to thank each speaker for helping make the forums a success. Your expertise and willingness to help continue to make this magazine better.

We are planning more forums in 2004. Watch Seniority for dates and speaker information.

And finally, here's to a healthy and happy new year.

-- Sheila Reed, Seniority editor, can be reached at 727 893-8452 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 8452. Write to her in care of the St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731; or send e-mail to

[Last modified December 22, 2003, 10:27:47]


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