PHILIPSBURG–“Age is just a number,” Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sports (ECYS) Wycliffe Smith told Members of Parliament (MPs) on Tuesday in response to statements made in parliament regarding his age, energy and ability to handle the tasks in his ministerial portfolio.
“I would like to say that during the last couple of weeks that I have been coming to Parliament, one MP, expressed great concern about my age and my energy and consequently my ability to function in the capacity of Minister of ECYS… The honourable MP is of the opinion that age disqualifies me for the job as Minister of ECYS… Many senior citizens out there are now wondering if this means that after one hits the age of 60 that they should resort to a rocking chair and rock themselves to their graves, no matter how long that may take,” Smith, who is 70, said.
“In Eastern countries, age is revered. There, senior citizens in leadership positions are respected and you will find many senior citizens in major responsible and leading positions. We all know the proverbs that say: “Age is just a number” and “You are as old as you feel!” If the honourable MP is concerned about my age then I do not mind giving my doctor… the okay to release my medical report, because for years he has been giving me a bill of good health.”
Smith said he leaves home in the mornings feeling enthusiastic and energized and return home at night feeling the same way – enthusiastic and energized. “And in between I work hard, and do my best to serve my people and my country to the best of my ability.”
He alluded to a number of world leaders who are above age 70, including US President Donald Trump, who is 73 years of age; candidates in the upcoming US elections are Joe Biden, 76 and Bernie Sanders 77; former US President Ronald Reagan, who was 73 years when he took office and Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Ralph Gonsalves, who is 72 “and still going strong.”
He also alluded Nelson Mandela, who was elected President of South Africa at the age of 77. “At the age of 77,… nobody told him that he was too old. Can we imagine what South Africa would have been like, if Nelson Mandela would have said: ‘I am too old, I don’t have the energy.’ As we know, Nelson Mandela, went on to be one of the most energetic Presidents, traveling to many countries, chairing long, very long meetings, taking decisions for his country…even using sports as a means to unite white and black South Africans. The movie ‘Invictus’ concerning the 1995 Rugby World Cup is all about that.”
Smith said “Age is certainly just a number. I like the way famous writer, Mark Twain, puts it. Age is an issue of mind over matter and if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
Smith’s comments led to a reaction from United St. Maarten (US) party MP Frans Richardson, who had raised the issue about the minister’s ability to run the ECYS ministry earlier in the 2019 budget debate. Richardson said he enjoyed the minister’s “performance,” on the concerns surrounding his age and for the “history lesson.” Richardson said his comments on the matter was not so much about the minister’s age, but about the portfolio that the minister holds and the challenges that comes with that portfolio.
Smith said he has been able to handle the tasks in the ministry with the assistance of the staff bureau, his cabinet staff and the various departments and divisions and he will be able to continue carrying out the job with their continued support.