The remarkable life of a 75 year old digital champion

me and seamus Oct 11This weekend I was lined up to help my 75 year old father-in-law with some admin on his company accounts.  He’s an undertaker (still) and wanted to find out how to add some formatting to the spreadsheets he keeps to make it easier to submit his tax returns online.

It was only on reflection, on a quiet journey into work one morning, that I thought how wonderful this little episode was and how completely typical.

Not only has my father in law fully embraced the digital age (he’s a Photoshop afficiendo, is a dab hand at MS Office software and a regular on Facebook) but he’s still a keen learner.

He’s had a remarkable life so far.  Born the third of five children to a farming family in North West Donegal he left school at 14, having never really got on with the teacher there who used to think nothing of raising the sally rod to him when he failed to match up.

After he left school he worked as a farmer, a Donegal County council worker, a forester in his native Ards Forest Park and an insurance sales man.  He’s also a singer/songwriter, a much sought after fiddle repair man, an undertaker (hence the accounts), an author (he’s published 7 books so far) and a public speaker and local historian.

Along the way he raised a family of five and still lives in the house where he was born, all those years ago.

He’s always had an ambition, an interest and curiosity that’s set him apart. 

In the early 1970’s, when the Irish government wanted to close many of the small village schools and amalgamate them into fewer bigger ones, he got together with the parents of his local school (the school he attended and where his own children were then studying) and galvanised them into action.

To cut a long story short, the school remains open to this day and has a great reputation.  It’s still a two room school with round about 30 students in total but there’s now central heating and whiteboards where there was once slates and chalk and turf for the fire.

In 1986 my father in law was also involved in installing a computer in the school.  It was a BBC compact computer and was top of the range at the time.  He still has one himself and proudly tells us that it is still working.  At the time that little school was probably the first and only national school in the county, if not the country, to have a computer.

He was a digital champion long before the such labels were thought of.  He loves nothing more than to talk (he enjoys a good debate) and can carry a conversation with anyone about anything.  Whether it’s the latest bit of shiny tech or a new way of doing things, his sharp mind will have an opinion.  Even if his family rolls their eyes.  He talks to one son in Sydney via Skype and his daughter and other sons on Facebook in London every week or so.

The Go On Digital campaign, which aims to get the 8.4 million people in the UK who’ve never used the internet online is not needed here.  This older, less well off adult is well and truly an engaged and digital native.  And he’s a great believer in sharing his enthusiasm. 

We smile at the time he bought his wife a laptop for Christmas and patiently sat down to teach her how to use it.  “Don’t worry, you can’t break anything,” he assured her as he stepped out of the room for a moment.  Unbeknownst to him, his lovely wife took out the can of furniture polish to dust the keyboard and, well, it turns out she could break it after all.

So that’s a little bit about my wonderful father in law.  He is an inspiration to those who know him, including his young grandchildren who enjoy his love of Tom and Jerry, story telling and penchant for mischief and don’t really realise yet how amazing he is.

And the Excel?  Well, it turned out he didn’t need my help in the end.  He smiled as he mentioned how he just clicked the Help button to find out how to carry out the calculation he was looking for.  “Isn’t that so helpful?” he marvelled to me.

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