- BC Games
80-year-old West Van MLA won't be slowing down
Ralph Sultan has never been one to sit back and relax. By the age of 12 he was at work in his father’s painting business. He followed that with jobs as a young labourer before completing an undergraduate degree in engineering at UBC. He continued on to earn an MBA, master’s degree and PhD in economics. After almost a decade as a Harvard economics professor, he went on to hold senior positions in the corporate world. Along the way he married and enjoyed a busy family life that comes with having four children. He believes, above all, his work keeps him challenged and energized; it’s something he recommends to all seniors.
This spring, for the fourth consecutive term, 80-year-old Ralph Sultan reclaimed his seat as Member of the Legislative Assembly for West Vancouver-Capilano. He believes his varied life experiences allow him to understand a whole range of subjects, from financial to social, that are part of his job as MLA.
Dealing with such a wide scope of issues ensures no two days are alike. He starts out early with breakfast and a review of the daily papers. After an exercise session, he’s off to whatever commitments he has for the day. When the Victoria legislature is in session he’s required to be present from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. On other days he may be travelling around the province or in his office seeing constituents. Most evenings are booked with community events and fundraisers. Even though his days are long, he says it’s important to meet people and to be accessible.
Staying physically fit despite the unrelenting schedule would be a challenge for anyone. After suffering a heart attack in 2006 while in the legislature, Sultan had a serious chat with his doctor who told him he needed more exercise. Since then he’s adopted a regular weight-lifting workout and opts for the stairs whenever he can. He also adheres to what he describes and a “pretty Spartan diet.”
More and more seniors, says Sultan, are staying healthy well into their 80s and beyond. He doesn’t buy into dire predictions about the impact the coming wave of aging boomers will have on our economy. He points out they are an active generation, who for the most part, have kept themselves healthy and will continue to have much to contribute.
On the other hand, he points out that this “bulge of older people” will need to be accommodated – which should be taken into consideration as we plan our cities and our health facilities.
“We have 30,000 owned or subsidized seniors care homes spaces today in BC. If we’re just going to maintain our proportional service level we need 60,000 – and we’d better get cracking because to add another 30,000… isn’t done overnight,” he says.
Sultan has his own housing issue to consider. He admits he has more space than he needs living in the house he built with his wife, who passed away in 1999. He’s been reluctant to move because the home holds so many good memories and he feels comfortable there. “At some point,” he says, “you’ve got to start thinking about what the next 10 years will hold. This is a common dilemma of all seniors and I’m no different.”
As a senior, Sultan is in a good position to understand and speak for those over 55. He’s also an example of someone who continues to be active and engaged regardless of his age. His work ethic, he believes, was inherited from his father whose motto was the somewhat ominous “work because the night is coming.”
Sultan quotes those words with a smile, but there’s no doubt that at the age of 80 he continues to draw satisfaction from his many responsibilities as MLA for West Vancouver-Capilano.
—Josie Padro is a writer/researcher for the North Shore Caregiver Support Project