Podcasts on women working after 70 feature Encinitas, Del Mar residents
Bay Area documentarians are producing the project
Encinitas resident Manuelita Brown was a school teacher in her 50s when she decided to leave that career behind to pursue her dream of being an artist.
Now in her early 80s, Brown is still at work creating her next bronze sculpture though she already has gained national recognition for a number of pieces, including the “Sojourner Truth” statue displayed at UCSD’s Thurgood Marshall College.
“If your healthy and taking care of yourself, expect to live,” Brown said. “If you’re 60 and think you’ve got 20 to 25 more years, what are you going to do with them? You can’t just veg out. That’s just not acceptable.”
Del Mar resident Pat Welsh, 94, is an award-winning garden writer who also paints and sculpts well after most women would have called it quits.
Said Welsh: “I feel deeply grateful to have learned two skills: writing books and painting, early in life that remain a source of joy today when I am in my 90s.
“In my opinion it is far more fun when one is old to keep on doing something worthwhile instead of sitting around watching TV. What a bore that would be!”
Brown and Welsh’s sentiments about continuing to work in their later years are included among a series of narratives featured in podcasts compiled by Bay Area residents Phoebe Rubin and Erica Tanamachi in a series titled “Work While You Have the Light.”
The theme of the podcasts is to show how many women continue being productive and have much to offer the world well beyond the usual retirement age.
“It’s about women over 70 who are continuing to work who have not bought into that antiquated idea that once you hit a certain age and certainly when you hit 70, that you’re irrelevant and invisible, and don’t have anything else to say,” said Rubin, a 75-year-old San Francisco resident.
Tanamachi, 42, who grew up in Encinitas, said that when she explained the concept of the podcast series to a friend, the acquaintance used the word ‘expander’ to describe it.
“I think it’s really meant to be an expander of our brain to help us and especially women in my generation to really recognize how much more to life there is and to not feel like we have to get it all done in the next 10 years or 20 years because we’re going to be obsolete after 60, which is clearly not the case at all. So I think that was a good word.”
The recorded interview with Brown is among nine podcasts featuring women from around the country that were posted on the website https://workwhileyouhavethelight.buzzsprout.com/ and other sources through March.
More podcasts are on the way, including the one with Welsh, which is scheduled for release April 26.
Besides Brown, interviews released to date highlight the following women, with their ages at the time of the sessions: Barbara Lavine, 72, licensed professional counselor; Amy Honjiyo, 71, food rescue and recycling coordinator; Sharen Butrum, 73, fund development manager; Dr. Selma Holo, 78, museum executive director; Mei-Lee Ney, 74, financial advisor; Dot Fisher-Smith, 92, artist; Dr. Carol Miller, 72, physician; and Judy Brooks, 74, producer.
Rubin and Tanamachi’s decision to explore this subject matter with podcasts evolved from their earlier goal of making a documentary about the subject of women working beyond 70.
They put the film project on hold, however, because of the coronavirus pandemic, which prevented them from being able to interact in person with the women they had chosen to follow.
“We had interviewed seven women and were following a few women in their everyday life at their jobs and having conversations with them,” Tanamachi said.
“The plan was to do a sort of cinema verite approach to filming these women in their everyday lives so people can have an idea about who these women are and how these women aren’t stopping and didn’t all of a sudden lose their curiosity or intellect.
“They’re still just as ambitious and as interested in their everyday world and in their career and (they’re) innovative. All the words you would think about applying to younger women in their career, it was the same for these older women as well. ...
“(With the pandemic), we couldn’t film any longer. We couldn’t go anywhere. So we decided to keep it going and keep it alive and start podcasts with the same subject (matter).”
Rubin and Tanamachi’s partnership began about 15 years ago from a project involving the opposite end of the age spectrum from the women in “Work While You Have the Light.”
Rubin said she and her husband were raising their grandson who was a first- or second-grader in the same school where she worked. For a school fundraiser, she was asked if she could put together a slideshow on the campus’s 50th anniversary.
“I said, ‘No, I will do a documentary about that. It will be more interesting,’” she said. “I had never made a documentary before. So I called my friend who was running the cinema department at San Francisco State. I said I really need help from someone who knows what they’re doing because I need to make this documentary.
“He said, ‘I have just the right person for you. She’s graduating and you two would really work well together.’ So that’s how we met.”
Following that first collaboration, Rubin and Tanamachi made a number of short films and documentaries together, they said.
Both gravitated toward the idea of focusing on older working women. The idea coalesced when they started fleshing out a documentary on an 84-year-old woman who was a chef and running a restaurant in San Francisco.
Rubin and Tanamachi said that now that they’ve launched the podcasts, they receive tips regularly about potential interviewees.
Manuelita Brown and Pat Welsh were the proverbial low-hanging fruit because of Tanamachi’s roots in Encinitas.
An aunt told her about Brown, Tanamachi said, “because Manuelita was a beloved school teacher in San Diego and Encinitas in particular. What was amazing is she was a math teacher and changed careers at 50 to become an inspiring and very well-known professional artist who is incredible at what she does.
“Pat Welsh is my grandmother and has actually been the person who I’ve been inspired by. Pat also started her career at 50 because she raised children (before that).”
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