Social gerontologist learns lessons from her octogenarian mother and COVID-19 isolation

Joyce Riff
Thursday, June 25, 2020

Social gerontologist Cynthia Hancock, Ph.D., interviewed her 85-year-old mother, Joyce Riffe, about how COVID-19 has affected her life. The two talked about Riffe’s own experiences with polio and her mother’s surviving the Spanish Influenza pandemic in 1918.

Hancock, a sociology professor, directs the gerontology program at UNC Charlotte. She has been on the faculty since 2002 and currently teaches classes on aging and the life course, families and aging and sociology of aging. 

Their conversation dealt with topics ranging from ageism in society to Riffe’s efforts to stay connected with her extended family, including her grandchildren, while under quarantine.

Riffe even shared how she has been inspired by a 102-year-old resident who sings in the retirement community's annual musical show. And she bragged just a little about checking off items on her to-do list, including cleaning out her closets. 

Riffe was born in Baltimore in 1934 and grew up in Charlotte. After graduating from Queens College (now Queens University), she earned a master’s degree in religious education from Duke University. In addition to raising three children, she taught and directed church-related educational preschool programs for 15 years and wrote curriculum for the United Methodist Publishing House for 20 years.

“My husband of 62 years and I have been residents of West Virginia, Delaware and North Carolina and are now living happily in our retirement community,” she said. 

Hancock is active in the Academy for Gerontology in Higher Education, the Southern Gerontological Society, Sigma Phi Omega International Honor and Professional Society in Gerontology, along with several local aging-focused organizations.  She also coordinates all of the community-based experiential learning required of all gerontology students at the University.

“I feel fortunate to be able to chat with my mom pretty much any day of the week,” she said. “This conversation and the opportunity to glean some octogenarian wisdom was definitely icing on the cake.”