Pensioner, 80, turns new degree leaf

Martin Allison at his 2016 graduation where he was awarded his honours degree
Martin Allison at his 2016 graduation where he was awarded his honours degree
Image: Supplied

Retired Port Alfred resident Martin Allison has eschewed a life of leisure, golf, and bowls and – rather late in life – found his niche in academia.

On Friday, Rhodes University awarded the 80-year-old an MA degree in anthropology.

The former chartered accountant retired to Port Alfred from Manzini in 2009.

After years of hard work, he says, a life of leisure did not work for him.

He was “useless at golf”, did not enjoy bowls and his plane and river boat were not enough to engage him full time.

“After a year of twiddling my thumbs as a retiree I decided to do something new.”

Allison “popped down the road” to Rhodes University to see what was on offer.

A lifetime of “crunching numbers” meant that commerce-related courses did not appeal.

He opted for something totally new – a BA degree majoring in history and anthropology.

He said he had nurtured the idea of doing a degree for some time before retiring.

He had continued flying, still used his boat, and managed to fit in his academics. After a brief hiccough in 2010 when he suffered a heart attack, he completed his first degree in 2013 and graduated in 2014.

He went on to do a joint honours degree in history and anthropology in 2015 and graduated in 2016.

Not yet satisfied, he decided to register for his master’s. He combined his lifelong love of flying with his newfound love of the humanities to produce a 150-page thesis on: “Where dreams become reality. Professionalism in flight training in the Eastern Cape.”

He immersed himself in the work, spending three months in the classroom with other students at an air school dedicated to training students to fly both as private and commercial pilots.

He enjoyed the classroom experience so much he even considered abandoning his thesis to instead go on to get his commercial pilot licence.

His mentor and former Rhodes University anthropology professor Robin Palmer discouraged him from doing so and he refocused his energies on the thesis.

The focus of his thesis was on the construction of the identity of professional pilots and how this was achieved.

After an exhausting six months of writing and rewriting his master’s thesis, the dapper 80-year-old says he is not sure he is ready to register for a doctorate.

“I am taking this year as a sabbatical. At my age you don’t see the future stretching indefinitely.”

But for now he intends simply revelling in his achievement.

“I have no regrets.”

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