Careers 2.0: Profiles in Career Change

Making at Career Change at 81

Ruth Roberson lost her last family member when she turned 81. That’s when she chose to heal herself by becoming a caregiver.

Ruth Roberson was 81 when she lost her last family member. She was living in Las Vegas, where she ran the dress department at a local store and cared for her learning-disabled adult daughter, Susan. Ruth was from North Carolina and had lived there most of her life. But when her husband died in 1973, she and Susan had moved to Nevada. In 2001, Susan died at age 47. Ruth brought her body back to be buried in the family plot in Greensboro and stayed.

Alone, Ruth said she began to feel that there was nothing to look forward to. She visited her daughter’s grave a lot. “The doctor said I was spending too much time at the cemetery,” Ruth recalled. “But I was grieving. I’d lost all I had.” In 2002, Ruth saw an ad for a caregiver for Home Instead Senior Care, a national provider of nonmedical home care for seniors. It didn’t pay much, but being a caregiver appealed to her. Ruth called and was hired. She began caring for four people—a woman and her autistic son and a couple in their early 90s—38 hours per week.

Home Instead named Ruth its Caregiver of the Year in North Carolina the following year. She said her work had given her a new lease on life.

“It’s so fulfilling,” she said. “On Saturday and Sunday, I can’t wait for Monday to get here, so I can be with people. I try to do my best. The doctor says, ‘Whatever you’re doing, just keep on doing it—because you’re the healthiest woman I’ve ever seen.’” Ruth says events have borne out what she said when she interviewed for the job. “I told him whoever they would give me to help would help me even more.”

David Corbett and Richard Higgins are the coauthors of “Portfolio Life: The New Path to Work, Purpose, and Passion After 50.” Corbett is the founder of New Directions, Inc., on Boston’s historic waterfront, which offers planning in career and post-career fulfillment to accomplished individuals. Higgins is a writer and editor. A Harvard Divinity School graduate and former Boston Globe writer, he edited More Than Money magazine.