82-Year-Old Helps a Tech Company Get More Older Adults Online 


Last Updated on February 27, 2023

A Creative Mind Sharing Valuable Knowledge

The landscape of activities to help our minds flourish and our passions thrive is growing every day. One man who has crafted a life around a love of arts and sciences is Richard Thill. Now 82-years-old, Thill is spreading his creative wings as far as they can go. He plays clarinet in a jazz band. He spends weekends competing in dragon boat races. He keeps bees and is a master gardener. He’s currently learning Ukrainian, in the hopes of taking in refugees displaced by the war with Russia. Above all that, he’s making a difference in the world as an advisor to a tech company, GrandPad, helping to advance products to make it easier for seniors to get online and connect with loved ones. 

Thill describes himself as a “people person” who loves to help others. After serving in the Air Force where he was stationed stateside during the Vietnam War, he was originally on a path to become an engineer. Thill decided to make a change and become a pediatric dentist, all because he yearned for interpersonal connection. 

He practiced dentistry for more than 50 years before retiring in 2020 due to the impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on his business. But Thill wasn’t done helping others. Instead, he found a way to share his gifts with the world as a “Grand Advisor” with GrandPad. 

This unique technology company has created a tablet that leans on the opinions of their “Grand Advisors” like Thill, designing a product alongside seniors to make a product specifically for other seniors to use. 

“That’s the reason I’m still able to and wish to be an advisor — because it’s a tool that elderly can communicate with other people,” Thill explained. “[CEO Scott Lien] would call me and say ‘Hey, what about this or that?’ I’d say okay and happy to do whatever I can to help the GrandPad be better. I used to go to nursing homes, and the hardest part is seeing people just sitting there. You know, they’re just isolated. The GrandPad really brings them forward.” 

While Thill is enthralled by the one-touch buttons to get online, the secure network that keeps out scammers, and the easy-to-use applications like the camera and the games to stay mentally sharp, what really feeds this musician’s soul is the music and radio functions. 

“Music to me is life. It’s relaxing. It’s invigorating. Without music, you’re pretty much dead.” 

The jazz clarinet player even recalled one of his favorite pieces of advice he gave the GrandPad team early on as an advisor. 

“They were able to load on music that my father hadn’t heard before, some of the big bands in the 1920’s that he personally knew. We had so many songs on there, I had to call up Scott and tell him, ‘Hey put more storage space on so people can have more songs!”  

Spreading a Message of Family Connection

Thill lights up at the chance to talk about his late father, Elmer. He laughs about his sense of humor and his dad’s desire to be around people (he even used to hit the “help” button on his GrandPad just to ask the representatives how their day was going). 

Thill eagerly expresses how impressed he was that his father still drove into his 100s and maintained an active real estate license until he passed away, even posthumously earning a commission on a sale!  

Pictured from left to right: GrandPad Co-Founder & CEO Scott Lien, Elmer Thill, Richard Thill, GrandPad Co-Founder Isaac Lien

He’ll beam telling you that his father built the house with his bare hands that Richard lives in still to this day. It’s been nearly two years since Elmer passed, but Richard says he lived life to the fullest in all his 106 years of life. Thill’s thankful for GrandPad because it allowed him to make priceless memories with his dad. 

“It definitely brought us together. We could communicate with each other,” Thill said. “My nephews and nieces could show my Dad what their homes looked like, what their children looked like and all the rest.” 

“His main hobby was tracking the market,” Thill added with a laugh. “The GrandPad gave him access to the internet, which allowed him to see the markets. A lot of times he would beat his broker, you know? They would have contests for lunch, and he won many lunches.” 

Richard is keeping Elmer’s flame of life alive. Above all, he says his dad was a people-person, and now he’s doing his best to get more GrandPads in the hands of older adults who need them to communicate, just like his father did. 

“Technology is a challenge, you know? Even myself now, constantly texting and messaging is difficult on [smart phones.] When you hand somebody a computer, an older person reacts, ‘I don’t want to be involved with it.’ But I say, ‘No, the GrandPad is simple. Just push a button here and there. If you need some help, push the help button and you can start communicating with real people.’ They don’t realize how simple it really is until they use it.” 

Thill guesses he has at least another 25 years ahead. He still takes his truck out with his GrandPad in tow so he can always reach his family and friends. He’s still looking for chances to play his clarinet in his jazz band or get out on the water with his dragon boat team. He’s constantly finding new ways to learn and is sharing his knowledge with the world. 

“I think life is beautiful and you just have to keep thinking and learning and moving forward,” Thill said. “Be involved with people. Don’t isolate yourself, and don’t pass up a challenge. I pick up another language, make a few more friends, pick up another instrument. We are social people, so we need to be with one another and use any tools that’ll keep us with one another.” 

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