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'I Like to Be a Protagonist'

At 81, Roy Caple returns to alma mater and considers his career options.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

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Roy Caple has always lived life front and center. As a young man wanting to explore the world, he landed positions with major international corporations that allowed him to travel and live in places such as New York, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Belgium and nearly every country dotting the map of Central and South America.

When he wanted a new challenge, he started his own company.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the 81-year-old Caple was not satisfied to sit home at an age when many would be content to do just that. Two years ago, he took the unorthodox step of moving to Athens from his home in Sheffield Lake, Ohio, to pursue a master's degree in Spanish at Ohio University. Many rigorous courses later, he collected his diploma during Ohio University's Spring '08 graduate commencement ceremony.

"I don't intend to retire," he said. "I like to be a protagonist."

Caple's life as a Bobcat began more than half a century ago, when the Navy veteran attended Ohio University under the GI Bill. He graduated in 1951 with a bachelor's degree in Spanish and minors in French and Commerce.

Caple went on to work in upper management positions with international corporations such as Playtex and Philip Morris. Later he embarked on a career in the executive search industry, first with Tasa International in Mexico and then with Korn/Ferry International in South America. He went on to found his own executive search firm with offices in Bogota, Colombia, and Caracas, Venezuela.

After selling the company several years ago, Caple found he wasn't satisfied with his semi-retired lifestyle.

"I had this desire to really go back and enhance my knowledge," he said. "I always had this longing ... coupled with a desire to get into the highly cultural aspects of Spanish and Latin America."

Fueled by this dream, Caple returned to his alma mater to experience life as a student once again. In preparation for the new venture, he worked for two months before classes began to learn more about computers, which he had rarely used in his professional life.

Advanced technology was hardly the only difference he found upon returning to Athens. Gone were the barracks on East Green that had been left over from the war, swapped instead for residence halls housing a student population more than five times the size of that of his undergraduate days. Also gone was the more formal atmosphere, replaced with a laid-back campus where students wear jeans and T-shirts to class and address some professors by their first names.

But one of the biggest surprises was the intensity and complexity of his degree program.

"I thought it would be easier than it was," he said. "Sometimes I said, 'What am I doing here?' (But) once I got into it, I wanted to finish it." Ohio University Spanish Professor Thomas Franz had no doubts that Caple would complete the program, calling him a "super student" and lauding the depth of experience he brought to the classroom.

"He was good for students because he brought worldly perspective that they wouldn't have been exposed to," he said. "He was the voice of experience to a relatively young group of students who had never had that before."

Franz predicts that, with the ever-increasing life expectancy of the general population, Caple's path will become more commonplace.

"If he's a harbinger of the future, it's going to be a good one," he said.

As for Caple, he is keeping his options open. He's considering a number of career moves, including possibly teaching part-time at a community college or writing short stories.

Read about other elders who have headed back to school ยป


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