Keeping It Going

Keeping It Going

Exercise Class at NOVA

When Barbara Westlake, department chair of Physical Education at Northern Virginia Community College, began an Over 40 Exercise Class in 1987, Mildred Bailey and Bill Robertson were right there with her.

Fifteen years later, Westlake is getting ready to retire, but Bailey and Robertson are still going strong. Both in their 80s, Bailey and Robertson retired from their government jobs years ago. Now, they're just 'working' at having fun and staying fit.

"Barbara Westlake has done a very nice job," said Bailey, who taught modern dance and gymnastics for 20 years. She was asked to quit teaching at the Arlington YMCA at the age of 65 because she "was too old."

She said she misses modern dance, which she said was "like ballet, only without shoes."

However, she finds that Westlake's class at Northern Virginia Community College is a good substitute.

"We've been very happy with it," she said. "If you want to keep going, then keep going,"

Her husband feels the same way. "We've met some wonderful people." There have been as many as 4-5 men in past classes, but currently, Robertson is the only man in the class and calls the woman students "my harem."

Robertson doesn't mind standing out in the crowd, nor does Bailey. They didn't marry until they were in their 50's, meeting when Bailey went to work for Robertson on a special project. One of the projects which Robertson handled was one that would have significant impact down the road, in particular, when we reached the millennium. As Director of Data Standards for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Robertson was instrumental in making decisions on how data would be stored and presented.

One of those decisions was keeping the two-digit year. An article in the July 18, 1999 issue of The Washington Post said that there was dissension between Robertson and computer expert Harry S. White, Jr., who felt that the date field should be expanded. Robertson and others felt that it was too costly to make the change to Defense Department's files, but said that his system provided for optional use of additional data elements for century and millennium; they were never adopted.

As for Bailey, she worked a 'man's job' most of her career, she was used to working with men, many of whom were less than pleasant. When she met Robertson, she said, "He's such a good man."

He refers to her as "my intellectual leader."

Bailey and Robertson will be celebrating their 26th anniversary this year. They have traveled extensively, visiting 70 countries. "We've been to all seven continents and been on 32 cruises," said Robertson. "In July, we're going on a cruise to Alaska for our third time."

Long Tenure

Classes run on a semester schedule, lasting 16 weeks. When this semester ends, it will be the last time that Westlake teaches the class that she started so long ago.

"Mildred and Bill are real characters, they really enjoy the class," said Westlake. As head of the department, she teaches 10 classes a semester, both fitness and wellness classes. Part of her classes are comprised of full-time students who are taking the physical fitness classes as part of their requirements, while the rest are there just because they want an exercise class.

Westlake attended Edison High School. After graduating from the University of Maryland, she was hired at Northern Virginia Community College with the provision that she would start her master's degree - she received one after attending local classes of Virginia Polytechnic Institute.

Westlake currently lives in Arlington. Her tenure with the college extends much longer than the 15 years that she has been teaching this class. When she retires in July, she will leave with 30 years of service to the college.

In addition to Bailey and Robertson, one of her other students, Louella Seibel, has been with her since she started the Over 40 class.

"What I try to do in the class is not a great deal of repetition on any one muscle," said Westlake. "I keep them moving — we never stop. A lot of the exercises I do are functional exercises."

Westlake has had extensive training in working with physical injuries and is well equipped to deal with students recovering from hip replacements (both Bailey and Robertson have each had one), rotator cuff injuries and frozen shoulder. Depending on their situation, she advises which routines they should take it easy on.

Although Bailey and Robertson live close to Skyline, they opted not to join the health club there. Bailey likes the fact that they have somebody pushing them every week. She also exercises at home at least once a week and has been doing strengthening exercises with her husband to help him recover from back surgery.

For more information on classes call 703-845-6200 or go on-line to