Borrowing from someone else who just retired from his longstanding job, I would like to offer you 10 random thoughts as I take leave of a long career as a newspaper reporter, editorial page writer and columnist.
First and foremost, I just hit the 40-year mark in my newspaper career, and I’ve decided that’s long enough. It’s rare these days for anyone to stay in the same profession their entire adult life, but that’s how wedded I was to print journalism. What started as a temporary gig to develop some discipline in my writing ended up being a journey that supported me through adulthood, a failed marriage, three mortgages, raising two children, my mother’s death and a heart attack.
Second: I’m starting to feel a bit like a dinosaur. Newspaper companies are now multimedia enterprises, reaching readers on multiple platforms. I came into the business writing for a newspaper — the thing you hold in your hand and read in the morning with a cup of coffee — and I don’t have the passion or proclivity to embrace a high-tech reinvention of journalism.
Third: I’m not really retiring; I’m refocusing my writing to include books, short stories, magazine articles, a memoir and who knows what else. With any luck, my writing career is just entering a new stage, one that will continue to provide an income to supplement my Social Security check, my retirement savings, and a pension that barely covers my monthly beer and gas expenses. Yes, it’s that paltry.
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Fourth: My emotions on the eve of “retirement” run the gamut. I’m excited, apprehensive, curious and confused, not sure what the future holds, but confident I’ll find my way. I will seek counsel and comfort from my many friends who have redefined retirement for my Baby Boomer generation. Many still work part-time. They volunteer their time to community projects. They stay physically fit. They embrace new hobbies and remain open to learning new skills. I have lots of mentors. I will listen to them.
Fifth: Four months shy of 67, I’m in relatively good physical shape, but need to work at maintaining my cardiovascular health. When I’m away from the office for extended breaks — up until now, I called them vacations — my blood pressure drops. I think “retirement” will be good for my health, literally and figuratively.
Sixth: My father retired at age 62 and that was 32 years ago. He still lives independently. It’s a quiet, sedentary life, and the language we rely on has less to do with words with every passing day, and more to do with a deck of cards and games of poker. I will soon have more time to spend with him, mining the depths of the language of poker.
Seventh: I’ll get to spend more time with my 12-year-old dog, a black Labrador retriever named Jake. He’s been a faithful pal, and it will be nice to hang out with him as his dog years start to approach outlier numbers.
Eighth: People ask me: What’s the favorite story you covered in your career? I say: The rise and fall of the Washington Public Power Supply System, the public utility consortium that tried to build five nuclear power plants at the same time, including two on Fuller Hill near Elma. As a reporter for The Daily World in Aberdeen, the so-called Satsop nukes were my beat in the late 1970s and early 1980s before joining The Olympian to become its first full-time environmental reporter. WPPSS and all its cost overruns, schedule delays and mismanagement were a reporter’s dream come true. It was also the biggest news story in the Pacific Northwest, and I had a front row seat. My editor and mentor, John Hughes, even nominated our WPPSS coverage for a Pulitzer Prize in 1981. Needless to say, we didn’t win.
Ninth: I ask myself: What’s the hardest story I ever had to write? That would be the news story announcing the sudden death last year of iconic Nisqually tribal leader Billy Frank Jr. To know this charismatic civil rights activist and defender of salmon was to love him. It was difficult to do his life and accomplishments justice, but I set aside my emotions on deadline and did my best. At a retirement party and community reception at The Olympian Thursday night, Nisqually tribal members Nugie and Georgianna Kautz presented me with a poster I will cherish forever: It’s a photograph of Billy on the banks of the Nisqually River, his eyes filled with a pensive, faraway look, and his words ring out prophetically: “As the salmon disappear, so do our tribal cultures and our treaty rights. We are at a crossroads, and we are running out of time.”
Tenth: Another question comes to mind: What will I miss the most about my job? That’s an easy one to answer. I’ll miss all the opportunities to highlight the people, places and events that make South Sound a special place to live. But I’m not burning the bridges that could lead back to writing a column again sometime in the future. Just give me some time to figure out this retirement thing.