Art of Aging Gracefully

Eleven years ago, Ken Comer found his love of painting. Now at 86 years old, he refuses to retire or stop making his art, preferring a busy life over a sedentary one. “I can’t imagine sitting around and doing nothing – being really retired,” he says. “I don’t like that.”

Some senior citizens use their later years to take life at a slower pace, but for Cary resident Ken Comer, retirement isn’t even on the horizon.

“I vowed a long time ago that I didn’t want to retire. I love what I do,” said Comer, 86, a successful financial planner. “I don’t watch television. I’d rather work than do anything.”

Comer’s life has been a full one, as a veteran of the military and working 35-45 hours a week through what would be most seniors’ retirement years. He found his newest hobby 11 years ago, when he discovered a passion for painting and took a few art classes to refine his skills.

He’s still at it.

Comer paints when inspiration strikes, often working on a canvas for hours at a time. Each new painting finds its place on the walls of Comer’s home, and a few are sold to admirers of his work.

As a financial planner, Ken Comer often references numbers and symbols connected to money and banking. This two-dollar bill pictures Thomas Jefferson and numbers relating to taxes.

“I think how you manage your time and what you do with it is important,” Comer said. “I think you need to do good things. I can’t imagine sitting around and doing nothing – being really retired. I don’t like that.”

It’s immediately clear that the gregarious Comer loves talking about his work, recounting inventive anecdotes, making witty comments and telling jokes to entertain guests.

From one spot in his living room you can see over 100 of his paintings canvasing the walls, ranging from impressionist style to his own take on “The Last Supper.” He illustrates his love for painting with a simple analogy.

“When you cut the grass, you see it fall and it gives you a sense of accomplishment,” he said. “But the grass grows back. The paintings just stay there. So, it’s a feeling.”

Kay Jones, one of Comer’s three children, believes carrying on with his career and painting have helped him stay heathy in mind and body.

Ken Comer’s art covers many areas of his life, including career, beliefs and personal moments. On the sails of this ship, he spells out many traits that he holds dear, like perseverance, enthusiasm and self-confidence.

Even when Comer was in the hospital for a few days, he asked his daughter to take photos of art around the corridors for him to paint from his bed. There’s no stopping him.

“He loves a challenge,” Jones said.

She commissioned Comer’s first painting in 1994, asking her father to create a piece for her birthday. He enjoyed making that first painting, but it wasn’t until 2009 that his creative juices kicked into high gear.

“There’s the camp [of seniors] that wants to work, and the camp that wants to play,” Jones said, with a chuckle. While she plans on retiring when she is older, she knows her dad prefers to keep on working and making his paintings.

Comer’s other hobbies include playing bridge, taking care of the rose bushes in his backyard and attending Toastmasters sessions, where groups grow confidence by learning leadership and public speaking skills.

Comer paints whenever inspiration strikes, and his subjects are varied. Most of his work hangs on his walls, but a few pieces have been sold to admirers of his art.

Lisa Austin met Comer through Toastmasters in 2014. They were the two oldest members at the meeting, and Austin found Comer and his late wife, Fran, fascinating, charming and fun.

“Someone with a passion is engaging,” Austin said, describing her friend. “It catches on.”

While she admires Comer’s talent and work ethic, she chooses the “play camp” version of retirement, which she has enjoyed for eight years.

“Life is too exciting to be bored,” Austin said. “There are just so many things. I have never had a better time in my life.”

Austin enjoys taking life at her own pace, taking her dogs on walks and running errands. In her free time, Austin and her husband host a meet-up group for seniors that focuses on cooking and baking. The group encourages its members to try new recipes and get creative, all while engaging in conversation and growing relationships.

“To me, that’s exciting and that’s challenging – things I’ve never done before,” she said. “If you don’t grow, you die.”

Austin and Comer share an eagerness to break out of their comfort zones, but Comer goes beyond that by working through his retirement years.

“Ken is different,” she said. “Ken’s got that mind, and that mind has just got to be fed all the time.”

“I’m always thinking about business and always thinking of what I can do today, tomorrow and the next day,” Comer said.

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