He was in his early 50s---53 to be exact---when he was laid off by the hospital. He worked in a lab there. They gave him a severance package and a counsellor, and sent him on his way.
The counsellor was actually quite helpful, told him the best way to handle his severance for tax purposes and encouraged him to go back to school. She told him there was money available for retraining but it would take time for the application to go through so he should get that started right away. He could figure out what he wanted to study later.
Well, this was in Ontario's Bob Rae days and that counsellor wasn't kidding about there being money available. However she grossly overestimated how long it would take for Walter's application to go through, he had hardly submitted it when they told him it was approved.
Now what school was that again that he intended to go to?
He had no idea.
He did know that at 53 finding another job was going to be darn hard, but he didn't have a clue what he wanted to study or retrain for. The counsellor helped him fill in applications for various community colleges.
He grew up in Saskatchewan, when they said they wanted his high school transcript he was dumbfounded. His graduation diploma had been typed out on a slip of paper, how could he expect to get a transcript? But he wrote away for it and I guess that high school managed to type out a transcript for him, 35 years later.
Most of the colleges he applied to said forget it. They weren't interested in his transcript or him. But he got a call from somebody in Admissions at Centennial College who told Walter to come down right away and talk to him.
Walter hurried down with his transcript, the fellow glanced at it and said, "You're in! Now what was it that you wanted to study?"
Walter didn't know.
So together they went through the college prospectus, and ended up selecting some art classes for him. The fellow told Walter that he could use these classes to put together a portfolio if he wanted to apply to OCAD, the Ontario College of Art and Design.
Walter spent a couple of years at Centennial. He'd never studied art before, but he had the most wonderful time at Centennial doing art of all kinds. By the end of his time there he was pretty sure he wanted to go on to OCAD, and he was pretty sure that the thing he wanted to study there was silk screening.
Walter applied to OCAD, was accepted, and then he applied to have his two years at Centennial accepted as the equivalent of the first two years at OCAD. They agreed. So another two years at OCAD, painting, sculpting, photographing, weaving and of course silk screening, and now he had a degree in art.
Walter owned a house. He bought it when he was in his 40s, back when interest rates were through the roof but house prices were still reasonable. He worked diligently to pay off the mortgage and in ten years he was debt-free. So when he got laid off he owned his own home free and clear, and he had a little bit in savings. Between the help that the Bob Rae government gave him and his own resources, he managed to survive four years of school. After that he just kept taking courses in things that interested him, quilting, weaving, this, that and the other thing.
He says he never thought he'd manage a "Freedom 55", but I guess he did, and two years early at that.
Walter started a small business. It was not intended to be a big moneymaker, but he loved to shop and he had an awful lot of stuff that eventually he had to get rid of if he wanted to continue to buy new things. So he started selling his puchases at the St. Lawrence flea market, then later he got space at an antique mall.
The antique mall suits him perfectly. He has space there for his items, mostly china and pottery, and the operators of the mall handle the sales and take a percentage of the sale price. He periodically shows up to resupply his space when his items have been sold. He goes to second hand stores to browse for more, occasionally goes to yard sales, and has handled one or two estates for people. It's perfect, enough work to keep him moving and learning, not so much to tire him out or prevent him from pursuing other interests.
I sit next to Walter in weaving class. He's been in this class for around 12 years now. He's working on a large tapestry based on a photo of a lake surrounded by multi-coloured trees and rocks.
He's been working on this particular tapestry for a couple of years.
He's in no rush.