Zoomer newsmakers of 2009

It may seem that youth dominate the media these days — but if you look closer, you’ll see that’s not the case. It’s not hard to find newsmakers over the age of 45. After all, they’re the largest and arguably the most powerful age group. In fact, in Forbes.com’s recent list of The Most Powerful People in the World, all but a handful were over the age of 50.

Here are a few of the many newsmakers that caught everyone’s attention in 2009:

Barack Obama

We’re used to seeing U.S. presidents all over the news, but it seems everyone is paying extra attention to this one. Whether it’s tackling controversial issues (like government bailouts and health care reform), winning the Nobel Peace Prize and the first couple’s fashion sense, everyone is watching — and commenting on — the president’s latest moves.

Whether people agree with his policies or not, there’s no denying that he’ll be making headlines for years to come.

Angela Merkel

The first female chancellor of Germany (and the first from the former Eastern Germany) has been making many lists this year — like Maclean’s “Top Newsmakers of 2009” and Forbes’ list of “The World’s Most Powerful Women” for four years in a row.

This past fall, she was re-elected to serve a second term. Not only is she running one of the world’s largest economies (and Europe’s biggest) during a worldwide economic crisis, she’s also “leading the charge” against greenhouse gas emissions in Europe, according to Forbes.

Leonard Abess

It was an ugly year for financial news, between stimulus packages, bailouts and fraudsters like Earl Jones and Bernie Madoff. Still, a bank CEO landed on Time Magazine’s “Top 10 Heroes” list. Why? After selling his part of the company, this 60 year old executive took his $60 million profit and divvied it up amongst his employees. He even went so far as to track down a few dozen former employees to reward them as well. Abess’ leadership also earned him a call-out from President Obama during a congress session on the economy.

Jim Balsillie

Professional hockey and cutting-edge technology seem like an unlikely pairing, unless you’re behind one of Canada’s largest technology companies and a bid to bring a seventh NHL team to Canada. Aside from his long battle in 2009 to buy the Phoenix Coyotes and bring them to Hamilton Ontario, Balsillie is also Co-Chief Executive Officer of Waterloo-based Research in Motion (RIM), maker of the addictive Blackberry.

According to media reports, Balsillie won’t appeal the court rulings against his bid for the Phoenix Coyotes, but no doubt he’ll be in the news in 2010 as RIM takes on competitors like Apple in the wireless technology sector.

Jennifer Stoddart

As Canada’s Privacy Commissioner, she’s tackled some tough issues — including trying to get Canadians to take more control over their online information. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner even took on popular social networking site Facebook (which has over 12 million Canadian members). In July, an investigation showed that the site needed to revise its policies to comply with Canadian privacy laws. In August Facebook agreed — and decided to implement many of the office’s recommendations. As a result, users around the world benefit from new settings and policies that add extra protection. (Read the press release for details.)

Barbara Ann Scott

Many Canadians carried the Olympic Torch during its cross-country trip, but few garnered as much attention as 81-year-old Scott when she brought the flame into parliament. At the age of 19, Scott earned Canada its first gold medal in figure skating — during the 1948 Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland — which is still our country’s only gold for women’s skating.

Willard Boyle

Many people said it was a long-overdue accolade — but it wasn’t without controversy. This year, Nova Scotian Willard Boyle, along with American George E. Smith, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for inventing the charge-coupled device (CCD) back in 1969. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences hails the device as the breakthrough technology leading to digital photography — a claim that Boyle’s former colleagues Eugene Gordon and Mike Tompsett now dispute. They claim that if the award was given based on digital imaging, then Tompsett deserves credit as well because he applied the device to digital imaging and designed and built the first CCD cameras.

As many reporters have noted, Nobel Prizes are often dogged with controversy — but the award still shines the spotlight on the accomplishments of Canadian scientists.

Brenda Milner

If you’ve even taken a psychology course, you’ve likely heard of neuropsychologist Dr. Milner and her work with a patient, known only as HM, who couldn’t form new memories. Through her work with HM, she was the first to prove that memory wasn’t just a single system. She was the force behind many important findings about how memory functions and the different parts of the brain interact — and known as a pioneer in her field for her work at the Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI).

This year, at the age of 91, Milner was awarded the International Balzan Prize — a $1 million international accolade. She was also promoted to Grand Officer of the National Order of Quebec this year. Her research and teaching career spans nearly six decades.

Captain Chesley (Sully) Sullenberger

He’s living proof that experience matters — and so are the passengers and crew of US Airlines Flight 1549. His successful landing in the Hudson River last January wasn’t luck: his 40 years of flying experience and his safety consulting business helped him save the lives of all 155 people on board when the plane’s engines were knocked out by birds. (Naturally, his co-pilot and crew share in the credit.)

Captain Sullenberger hasn’t dropped out of the news yet — he recently auctioned his captain’s hat for charity, and passengers of the flight recently released a book, Miracle on the Hudson, about the experience.

Susan Boyle

When she auditioned for TV’s Britain’s Got Talent, the judges and the audience rolled their eyes at her mousy, matronly appearance and her dream to be a singer as big as Elaine Page. Then she opened her mouth…

Now she’s internationally known and just released her first album, appropriately named after the song that launched her to stardom: I Dreamed a Dream . It wasn’t just the judges who launched her career — her audition video went “viral” online and was one of the most watched videos on popular video site YouTube.com. (If you missed it, you can still watch it here.)

Michael Jackson

His musical accomplishments — not to mention the furor surrounding his death — were compared to Elvis Presley. The “King of Pop” made headlines over the years for many reasons (many of them having to do with his personal life and the law), but his death overshadowed all the controversy. For weeks, fans and colleagues poured out the tributes while police tried to determine how Jackson died and who was responsible.

His legend lives on with the recent release of This is it — a movie about Jackson’s planned comeback — and his appearance in many of 2009’s “Top 10” accolades, including MTV News’ “Man of the Year” and the Associated Press’s “Top Celebrity Stories”.

Susan Eng

Whether it’s taking on Queen’s Park about the HST or the federal government about the universal pension plan, Susan Eng, Vice President, Advocacy for CARP (Canada’s association for Zoomers, Boomers, Seniors and those who care for them), is busy fighting for the rights and needs of Zoomers. But don’t take our word for it — Eng often appears when important issues affecting Zoomers are discussed.

For more information, visit CARP’s advocacy webpage.

Everyday heroes

Most heroes don’t make the news at all. That’s why CARP, as part of its 25th anniversary celebration, launched its Top 25 Canadians Awards. Members all across Canada were asked to nominate people who they believe made a difference in the lives of Canadians as they age. The list highlights the contributions of caregivers, advocates, artists, authors, advisors, mentors, business people and volunteers. (Read the full list here.)

Additional sources: Macleans.ca, Forbes.com, Time.ca, company and government websites.

Who would you add to this list? Tell us in the comments.


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