Catherine refuses to be defined by her age

Margaret Jennings talks to a woman who quit her job in her 30s to be a novelist, married in her 40s, wrote scripts for Fair City and volunteers with sick children in Zambia.

Catherine refuses to be defined by her age

YOU’RE never ‘too old’ to follow your passion nor to use your skills to help out those less fortunate... even if it means hopping on a plane at the age of 73 and travelling 8,000 kilometres to South Africa.

So says Dublin woman, Catherine Brophy, whose feisty attitude brings her to surprising places — she thinks of herself as “quiet and retiring”, but says “the feedback I get from people though is that I’m ‘out there’.”

She was ‘out there’ in Zambia just a few weeks ago, after being awarded the ‘Age & Opportunity Life is for Living Bursary’, which she used to fund audiology equipment and to train local teachers and nurses to do hearing tests.

Early in life she qualified as an audiologist and worked with the National Rehabilitation Board, with pre-school children and their parents, but she walked away from it all in her mid-30s to write novels.

“Yes, I took a risk. I wanted to write, but leaving there was the best thing for me, spiritually and emotionally — though not financially. It was a huge release to leave, but it was scary.”

She describes herself on her website as “a writer, story-teller, broadcaster, teacher, lecturer and workshop facilitator”, but she has also used her original skills to do worthwhile work as a volunteer with ENT Zambia.

“You see things that would raise the hairs on your head there — kids with continuous infections that could spread to the brain,” she says.

“I know anything I do is a mere drop in the ocean. It was always my dream to be able to buy equipment and teach local people to use it — to help them to help themselves.

“When I started to tell people about my plan, some of them thought I was mad and I got the feeling what they were really saying was, ‘Aren’t you a bit old for this kind of thing?’ So winning the bursary allowed me to carry out my dream and to say a very definite ‘no’ to the doubters.”

While training as an audiologist in Manchester University, Catherine started running personal development workshops which led to meeting the man of her dreams, whom she married at the age of 46.

It would be the perfect scenario for one of her novels: Bernard O’Kelly participates in her workshop; they become friends, and after four years they tie the knot.

“Yes, I had a late vocation to marriage, but it was to the most fabulous man on the planet. It was a slow-burning romance and I’m more in love with him now than I ever was — he’s warm, intelligent, funny and thoughtful.”

Not like some of the characters in the RTÉ soap, Fair City, for which Catherine wrote, for nine seasons, up to the 1990s. “It was my main source of income at the time. I had to write the dialogue for the characters, to suit the storylines,” she says.

But, in dramatic style, she was suddenly let go: “To this day, I have no idea why... I just got a letter and never heard again from RTÉ, although the feedback I got from the actors was that they loved my scripts.”

Catherine’s creativity has never ceased, however.

For the past four years she has been involved in a Dublin-based storytelling group, called Milk and Cookies, consisting of “about 200 young people and not one of them over the age of 30” — all inventing stories and delivering them to an audience.

And what is her attitude to being the oldie in the group? “I don’t have any attitude to ageing,” she says. “I forget that they’re in their 20s and I’m in my 70s. What reminds me? Like when they go shaking their booty at the end of the night — I’m off home.”

Perhaps she would be able to dance them under the table. She has been practising yoga to keep her “body and mind flexible” for decades, as well as meditating daily.

“All of that helps to keep me sane, my feet on the ground, and not to sweat the small stuff — to be more present and have a sense of humour,” she says.

She doesn’t dwell on time running out? “I just enjoy myself and keep going on. There’s a lot I want to do before I hang my boots up. My aunt is 97 and she still wears the leopard skin and the gold.”

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