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happiddVerve catches up with Bruce Donaldson, Bob and Brenda Upton. Bruce is a reluctant new retiree, while Brenda and Bob positively relish in their retirement years.


Brenda and Bob

Brenda and Bob originally hail from Coventry in the UK, and made the move Down Under in 1974, bringing with them four daughters aged 16-21, and a son-in-law.


“We went on a cruise to the Caribbean in 1969 and realised how much better the skies and the weather was elsewhere,” chuckles Brenda. “That’s when we decided to make the move to New Zealand.”


She continues that they just wanted the sunniest spot and it was a toss-up between Hawke’s Bay and Nelson. The couple were primary school teachers at the time, and found work faster in the former, but both retired relatively early, Brenda aged 54 and Bob at 57, and moved from Hastings to Waiheke Island. Now aged 85 and 88, the couple have been married an incredible 67 years.


I suggest that they must be fond of spot of vino having lived in two of New Zealand’s most prominent winemaking hubs.


“We were,” says Brenda, “but we tend not drink so much anymore. Aside from a spot of sherry every now and then.”


It turns out that they know some of the stars from Hip Hop-eration, the awesome feature length documentary that followed a group of hip hop dancing seniors from Waiheke in their quest to reach the World Championships in Las Vegas. I ask Bob about his dancing skills, and he laughs only when he’s “drunk enough”. Brenda’s booked him into a fitness class in a couple of weeks, perhaps, I joke, they’ll have him dancing there.


The couple have certainly kept themselves occupied since quitting full-time employment. Bob bought a 22-foot launch with his ‘golden handshake’ and taught himself how to fish, while they’ve also toured every continent aside from Antarctica, through their passion for cruising. When asked how many cruises they’ve embarked on, Brenda admits that they “stopped counting at 150”.


Brenda also worked part-time looking after children for a while immediately after retiring, and they both also secured a gig teaching bridge aboard a Russian cruise liner. The pair now reside at Waiheke Retirement Village, where, Brenda says, “there is a heated indoor swimming pool, and always something going on, like being on a cruise!” It is, she adds, “a life without worries”.


“Retirement has been very good,” Bob chips in. “I should have done it years ago!”


And with that, it’s time for afternoon cheese and sherry.




Bruce would be a good man to have around in a crisis. The 76-year-old engineer has not only built a boat or two, but also his own Matapouri home and most of the furniture in it. Not a man used to kicking back and taking things too easy, he may just be New Zealand’s most reluctant retiree. Though, he tells me with a chuckle: “They would have kept me on, but I thought that I didn’t want to die in there and have them bury me in the yard!”


Bruce has been retired from Carter Holt Harvery for just a few weeks, and just four years ago won an employee of the year award for his skilful innovation. “There is a lot of knowledge in there that you don’t always realise you have,” he says. “I also used to find it really stimulating learning from the younger guys, while a lot of oldies are too set in their ways.”


He admits to being nervous about finishing up work.


“I’m still adjusting, I used to hate Mondays, but now I love them,” says Bruce. “I enjoyed being there and contributing. But Jesus, when you stop, it’s strange.”


While Bruce’s “old upper chamber is still working” physically he does admit to feeling more restricted, but won’t let that stop him from enjoying his retirement years, even if he hasn’t quite figured out what to do with them all just yet: “You can’t very well go fishing every day, can you?!”


What is certain is that his endeavours will be creative. “It’s important to keep the imagination going, just as Einstein said so,” Bruce continues. “I don’t think anyone should ever underestimate themselves.”

Words: Jamie Christian Desplaces