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Never too old to learn

Rita Meaney

Rita Meaney is in her eightieth year of life.

It’s a fact, but it’s not one that defines her, not even close.

She’s the first to admit that she is resolute in her refusal to let age act as a barrier to success. This mindset has helped her achieve so much in life, like graduating with a Bachelor of Laws at age 75.

Before arriving in Tasmania in 1974, Rita lived a nomadic life.

She jokes that her husband Max tended to live by the rule that if you spent more than five years in a place you were wasting your time.

Each time they moved it also seemed to coincide with the arrival of a new child.

“My oldest son was born in Sydney and my second son was born in Victoria, number three and number four were born in Queensland, number five in New Zealand,” Rita said.

“When we arrived in Tasmania there was a real expectation that there would be at least one more baby, so I had to break the news to the children- no more babies!”

Max took up the position as head of department for medical technology at the Tasmanian Council for Education.

Rita was kept busy with the children, but also began working in hospitality, promotions, public relations and sales.

She rose through the ranks at Tasmania’s largest chain of department stores, FitzGerald’s, eventually becoming sales manager.

“I had no experience, but they thought if I could manage five children, I could manage anything,” she said.

It was during that time that Rita realised she needed a better financial understanding.

“I would read through the monthly figures and I didn't know what they meant and that’s when I enrolled in a Bachelor of Business at the University of Tasmania.

“Accounting petrified me, but it was my teenage son, Iain, who told me the only problem with the subject I was studying was the one I was creating in my head. He told me get on with it and I did.”

It took Rita six years part-time to complete her degree.

“It was during this time that I fell in love with tax,” she said.

“Everybody I know has told me that it is almost impossible to believe anyone could do that, but I did.”

Rita worked as an accountant until 2003.

Believe it or not, it was a billboard that first planted the seed in Rita’s mind to study law.

“I was driving along Sandy Bay Road and there was a big sign saying enrolments closed at the end of the month.

She turned up at the University and told them she wanted to enrol, but she wasn’t sure what in.

“Then I thought, what about law?”

Studying as a mature age student was a “surprisingly invigorating experience.”

“I felt accepted and that I could add value to the class; it was an enormous ego boost when you felt like a duck out of water.”

Rita graduated in 2013 with a Bachelor of Laws degree and in 2015 with a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice.

She believes her positive attitude and resilience stems from a long line of strong women who paved the way for her to pursue a family, education and career.

Her children have been an incredible source of support, helping at home while she worked full-time and studied at night and giving her pep talks, as required.

“To my great joy it all contributed to a very close relationship as, over the years, we had so many shared interests in such a variety of areas.”

Rita wants to encourage other people to pursue their interests, whatever they may be.

“You have nothing to lose rather a new world may open to you,” she said.

“Especially for those who are older there is so much that you can offer based on life experience and benefits that will return to you in ways that you might never have considered.

“These may include: meeting wonderful people, sharing experiences that you might never have considered, with your family, friends and across generations.”

Rita is also determined to stand up to ageism, which she has experienced as an older Australian.

“It is offensive,” she said.

“Don't accept it, call it out. Do it kindly, as it may not have been intended.

“Most importantly don't practice it. Respect all ages and listen to what people have to say and respect their views. You may be amazed at the doors to thought and ideas that open to you.”

Published on: 15 Jul 2020 3:29pm