Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : July 13th 2014 Contents SBG8 PROFILE
SUNDAY BUSINESS GUARDIAN www.guardian.co.tt JULY 13 • 2014
Shakespeare spoke about a
divinity that shapes ends,
regardless of how people try
to mould their own destinies.
Jennifer Rouse's doctorate does not disagree
with the concept. On how she came to her
to be the director of Division of Ageing at the
Ministry of the People and Social Development,
Rouse smiled as she said, "when people ask
me how I chose ageing, I tell them that ageing
Rouse caught the attention of the Sunday
Business Guardian when her opinion was
sought on retirement issues for women some
weeks ago. But her own story was compelling
enough to ask her to tell how she would leave
her own country and family behind to build
a second life at 44. And how she become a
living embodiment of the message she has
been imparting at the division: that one can
have a full, active, rewarding life and achieve
this at any age.
The seed that was planted
Rouse told the Sunday Business Guardian,
she often questioned the process by which
she arrived at this point.
"When I look back, I always question myself.
I have these internal dialogues and always
would wonder how did I get here ? What made
the choice ? What was the thinking ? What
were the triggers?"
She definitively identified her family as that
Rouse is the last of nine children and said,
by the time she came along, her parents were
middle-aged. She also had her maternal grand-
mother with a well spring of information going
back to 1800s Trinidad and Barbados, her
grandmother's original home.
"She was very close to me and I to her. I
got that oral history and then that bonding
that developed, that synergy you will get with
a young child and an elder. I recognised from
then on, looking back, that some seed was
Some seeds flower later than others.
Rouse's immediate thoughts after she left
Bishop Anstey High School in 1971 were far
from pensions or senior citizens issues.
She took a job at LIAT in the airline's
accounts department, but only worked there
for a short while before she went to an insur-
ance company and then back again to the
travel industry; this time with the domestic
airbridge between Trinidad and Tobago, which
was eventually absorbed into what was then
BWIA. Rouse found herself in the pensions
provident fund department.
"It seemed as though from all then it was
within me. But I didn't see it then. I can only
say so now, looking back. All these pieces were
responsible for moulding me."
At BWIA, Rouse would meet a man who
would change everything. Rouse referred to
him as her "life companion." She referenced
her father as being a critical influence in her
life, and her eventual choice of this man, whom
she said was so much like him.
Rouse reflected on the things that drew
them together, their mutual love of books,
music, philosophy, history and living life.
They built a life together, without marriage.
Rouse said she knew from early, marriage was
not for her and points to the subtle reinforce-
ment she received from two other influential
people in her life: two headmistresses from
her high school days, both unmarried.
"Both exemplified strength in being com-
fortable with being alone. Those types of
women modelled a strength they did not
impose on you. But you saw how they operated,
not looking vulnerable or frail or dependent
in any way."
Things went well for years, or so it seemed
to Rouse. The relationship was in its 23rd year
when the man who had meant everything to
her committed suicide. This was in 1995.
Almost 20 years later, the act is devoid of
sense and, like others left behind, she can only
"There was no answer. He was retrenched
from his job and I believe that was the trigger.
But it (the reason) was hidden. He started act-
ing strangely eight months prior to the sui-
Instead of staying, it was time for me to
cross the water, start again.
"I sold the house, the car, gave away the
dogs, packed my books, let my family and
friends keep what I couldn't take and sold
most of the furniture. I kept one or two pieces
from music collection and I just said I need
to go somewhere, where I don't know anybody.'
I went to Maryland."
The experience, if anything, is the source
of Rouse's belief anyone could make a fresh
start at any point in their life. She took VSEP
from the airline and it was that cheque that
paid for her board and tuition. At this point
she was 44. She said she was not sure she
wanted to do a degree but decided it was a
necessary evil if she was to be more mar-
And again, the destiny that shapes ends
intervened. Trinidadians with whom she had
long lost contact, or didn't even know, found
her and offered assistance. A Trinidadian pro-
fessor advised her to change schools to com-
plete her undergraduate degree. A couple who
were friends with her sister helped her to find
an apartment close to her new campus.
On campus, more help came in the form
of professors who advised her to go into policy
planning; who steered her through the appli-
cation process for assistantships, without which
she would not have been able to afford her
Rouse said she felt strangely numb, given
the level of the tragedy that had propelled her
into her tertiary career. At first, she questioned
this ability to detach and focus on her studies
but said she eventually realised something.
"My ability to do those degrees was based
primarily on the effect of the trauma. You can
either flip out and have a nervous breakdown
or do something supernatural."
In 71/2 years, Rouse was able to go from
her bachelors, to her masters to a doctorate
in public policy, specialising in the area of
Her doctoral thesis took her to Trinidad and
back to Maryland regularly, as she was doing
research at the then Ministry of Social Devel-
opment and the draft policy on aging. Because
it was her area of study and she had built a
rapport with the ministry compiling infor-
mation for her thesis, she was selected to head
up the Division of Ageing, which was in its
formative stages in 2003. She was still in the
middle of the thesis.
"I started at the division August 15. I flew
in August 12 and all my boxes came on August
15. There were 49 boxes. Only some of my
literature review. It was a bit challenging. When
I look back I don't know how I got the energy
to start a division and finish a thesis, because
the attrition rate is so high for PhD candidates.
As high as 50 per cent. They just don't have
the energy to finish but I finished."
Rouse credited her age as part of her suc-
"I think what the older student brings is
that stick to it ive-ness' and the ability to
delay gratification. The ability to focus, to have
an uncanny faith in where life has brought
you to at that point... You would have had
the experiences---joy, sorrow, loss, betrayal and
disappointment---and you become resilient."
The idea that her life and her ability to make
contributions was over once she crossed a
certain age was one Rouse obviously does not
subscribe. She pointed to her experiences
abroad where people decades older than her
were making their mark and speaks of one of
the women in a class, she was asked by the
university to teach before she left.
"Ms Tyler was doing her masters in edu-
cation. She had graduated with her bachelors
in 1952, the year I was born. She returned in
another century to do it. She said she was
taking her time, one course per semester. She
said she was not in a hurry, she will finish."
Rouse told us the student in question fin-
ished her degree at the age of 87. Meanwhile,
just as she was leaving the US, another female
senior was making headlines, completing her
PhD at 94.
"It goes to show, the sky is the limit. It is
all about the push for greatness."
Rouse said people should begin to very real-
istically think and plan for the possibility of
living to the age of 120. She, herself, has no
plans of slowing down and sees her career
entering a "third" phase, including at least
one more term at the ministry.
"Maybe one more stint, if they get contracts
going again. I would do one more and I will
reach 65 by then. And that's the end of that,
at least this work."
Rouse still plans to be an advocate of issues
for senior citizens, seeing herself organising
free talks because people need the information.
However, she does not see this turning into
And while the Division of Ageing head pro-
vides advice on retirement issues for staff and
strangers alike, her own plans were less formal.
Rouse has no life insurance, preferring to take
up a critical illness policy instead. She is also,
for the most part, free of debt and was gifted
with a house from a relative and has savings
in a credit union.
Ageing Division director,
Jennifer Rouse is living proof...
It's never too
late to learn
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