Clarence Beat The Odds, Did The "Impossible"

For many, their most productive years are the prime years of their working lives. That doesn t have to be the case. This article proves that you can do some very difficult and special things at any age. Clarence Brazier did, at age 93.


So Clarence Brazier can read. So what? Who cares?

You should.

As obscure as Clarence Brazier remained for most of his life, he is now a public figure, a man of letters. Canada Post, Canada's national postal service, in 2006 awarded Clarence its National Literacy Award. His country's head of state, the Governor General, awarded him as well.

What did Clarence do? And why should we care?

Clarence Brazier learned to read.

Doesn't everyone learn to read? Actually, no. The number of Canadians who can't read is in the single digits, that's true. The number of functionally illiterate people in Canada is between 40 and 65 percent depending on age (older people are more often functionally illiterate due to learning conditions not being conducive when they were kids).

Clarence, however, was a total non-reader. Until his wife Angela died, when Clarence was age 93, she had coached him through every bit of written material, forms, tax returns and news reports for over half a century. Then she died. As he was deaf by then, he decided that he either had to learn to read or totally lose touch with the world.

Clarence chose to learn to read. By age 95, he had accomplished his mission. He was age 100 in 2006 when Canada Post gave him its award.

For two years he had to survive without his beloved Angela before he could search the junk mail for stuff he needed to shop for, find the news of the day in newspapers, read directions on his medicine bottles and a million other things we all take for granted that require us to read. His daughter, Doris Villemaire, who is old enough to receive her government's old age security pension herself, acted as his language tutor and reader/helper.

During his working life, Clarence had a dizzying variety of jobs, most for short terms, none of which required him to read. At least when they did, he quit. One, as a jail guard, lasted only part of a day, until he learned that he would have to write a report of his day's activities at the end of each shift.

Finally he hit a wall at age 93. He had to learn to read or die trying. Non-readers are survivors by nature, or at least by constant training. Daughter Doris, a retired teacher, found her father a delight to teach, as she had found the many young children she had taught to read during her career in the classroom. "His eyes would actually sparkle," she said, "when he'd recognize a word. It was just as I'd seen with my students."

Clarence has received other awards over the past two years, including the Governor General's Caring Canadian Award at age 101. He has become the poster child for both literacy and for new learning by seniors.

The press release issued by the Governor General of Canada's office said "At 101 years of age, Mr. Brazier continues to display courage and conviction as he shares his struggle to overcome illiteracy and to raise awareness among students and adults throughout [Ontario]."

It works for me. I was functionally illiterate until I was well into my 40s myself.


There is no age at which learning should stop, or necessarily must stop. Our brain is capable of generating new neurons and forming new synapses every day until we die.

The human brain doesn't stop learning when it gets old. It gets old when it stops learning.

Just ask Clarence.

Imagine how he must feel, at age 102 today, to be looked at as a role model for the very skill he feared and avoided for nearly a century.

At age 93, Clarence cast off the "I can't do it" mantra and decided that he could.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to know what is really important to children, not just what school boards say they should teach.
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