Bob Williams – Becoming Visible 2011 – The End of Invisibility

Bob Williams is a Board member and living legend at Vancity Credit Union, a former BC Cabinet Minister and British Columbia’s most accomplished social entrepreneur.

Here is his answer to:What would you like to become more visible in 2011?  You can also Download Becoming Visible  -  the complete collection of 58 essays.

The End of Invisibility

Probably a dozen years ago, when I was approaching 65, a bright, stimulating colleague said to me, “Bob, have you noticed that at a certain age you become invisible to most people?”  I tended to agree, but I asked Al to explain himself.

 “Well, he said, at a certain age in our society we tend to be invisible – we’re not relevant for most of the people out there – you know – at the end of the week, an easy-going Friday afternoon at the office when most of your colleagues are going out for a drink, or get together – you’re never invited, you’re irrelevant.        

My friend Al was as bright a guy as you’d ever meet; he was interested in almost everything despite having a highly specialized PhD.  At one point I even hired Al to analyze a computer scam at one of our big Crown corporations; he figured it out in no time, of course.  But more than all that, Al was a keen student of the human condition, with a lovely sense of humour.  It was great fun to just spend time with Al and open up about anything and everything; and we often did.  He was as stimulating as you get…but he was becoming invisible.

The invisibility seemed to be more the case when Al and Peggy decided to retire in Victoria.  There was still the occasional phone call, making the link to his former world, but the calls became more infrequent.  A few years ago, they ceased.  I was remiss in not making a simple phone call; I feared the worst.  Al had become invisible for me as well.

Recently, when Al Etmanski called, urging me to write a page or two about what I wanted to become visible in the coming year, I agreed – you can’t say no to Al.  But I puzzled about what to write, then realized that my friend’s invisibility at a certain age was the subject.

There had been recent incidents in my own life when I was dismissed as irrelevant because of my age, and I reflected again about my friend and his invisibility.  I realized I must call, fearing he might have died in the meantime.  Al’s wife answered the phone and I asked for Al, explaining who was calling, and he was there!        

Al was cheery and pleased to hear from me, remembering some of the old times.  I explained that I wanted to write about the invisibility of our elders.  Al laughed and said, “I could walk nude down Yates Street and never be noticed”.  Towards the end of our conversation I asked Al how old he was now.  It was then that he stammered a little and chuckled that he better hand me back “to the fountain of all knowledge”, his wife, Peggy.  That was the reason he had not called. 

These past few years Al had been slipping slowly into dementia.  I talked with Peggy again and wished Al the best.

The invisibility was now almost complete.

I guess that’s what I’m looking for in the coming year…the end of invisibility.


Click to read my previous post, Bob Williams, British Columbia's Olympian Social Entrepreneur.

You can download the complete collection of Becoming Visible responses here: Download Becoming Visible.  Or by clicking the Becoming Visible Category on the right hand side of your screen.

Please share and distribute to your friends and through your various networks, websites etc.  I think you will agree – these are too good to keep to ourselves.


         The invisibility was now almost complete.

         I guess that’s what I’m looking for in the coming year…the end of invisibility.

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