They knew her signature 1960s Cadillac, a living room on wheels, that five days a week tooled slowly through the barn area of the old-Northwest elegant Longacres horse race track in Renton.
They knew the car’s driver, “Smoky.” Hard not to guess where the nickname came from, given the big mass of red-orange hair that sat atop a much tinier body. Another signature.
Few of them, however, knew she was 80 years old, on her way to work, doing what she loved to do, independent, a new chapter in her life. She was the de-facto ruler of the “backside,” as stable areas for racing thoroughbreds have been called for years.
She took entries for the week’s racing cards, which meant she knew everybody—trainers, stable hands, owners, the bosses, everybody. She passed out advice. She made—ahem—an occasional bet.
This was her moment in the sun.
Truth be told, it’s a moment many of us long to replicate as we race toward sunset. Who wants to quit and sit at 62 or 65 or whatever age the gods of actuary tell us we must after years at the daily grind?
Not my mom Smoky (better known as Elizabeth Tazioli, who died in 2006 at age 94), not me (I learn from example), not increasing numbers of us who simply treat the end of one career as the beginning of another—or three or four, whatever shape they may take.
Another career? Do something completely different? Why?
Well, why not? There’s too much to do. Too much to offer others. Too much out there not to continue to be a part of it all—or of something.
Many of us are lucky enough, or privileged enough, in many ways to do the things we’d like to do at this point in our lives and not have to worry about being paid to do any of it. We do it because we want to.
Many more of us are not quite that lucky—or that privileged.
Think about the distance between “I work because I have to” and “I work because I want to.” We’re all somewhere on the line between those two extremes.
But it’s not just about continued work, is it? Volunteering, board memberships, travel, consulting. Art, music, drama, writing. So much more. And, I would argue, we as a group may be among the best of the best when it comes to being qualified to press on.
Wisdom? Sure. Experience, compassion, talent, courage, passion? Absolutely.
Take Jean Godden of Seattle.
Godden was a longtime columnist for both Seattle newspapers before she finally left The Seattle Times to run for Seattle City Council. She won. She was 72 years old. She served three terms, and now, at 86, she’s back writing a column for community newspapers.
Says Godden: “I think I am enjoying a fourth, or maybe fifth act.”
Mack Hogans of Bellevue was senior vice president for Weyerhaeuser. He retired in 2004. Now, he’s head of his own consulting group, affiliate professor at the University of Washington, on the board of regents for Pacific Lutheran University, chairman of the board for Cambia Health Solutions, and more. And these are new ventures, added to the activities he already does. This guy will wear you out. “It keeps my brain and mind active, sharp and challenged … it appeals to my heart,” he says.
How about Seattleites Theresa Morrow and Bill Ristow? These former Seattle Times employees made a pact when they retired: “We decided we needed a goal as a couple. So we wrote a mission statement for our retirement. We wanted to give back in recognition of the good fortune we had enjoyed in our careers,” says Morrow.
They have done just that. Over 10 years, they’ve trained more than 1,000 people in journalism and creative writing in six countries: Uganda, Ghana, Kenya, Ethiopia, Ukraine, and Bosnia. They’re still at it, increasingly at home in the United States as well as abroad. Morrow adds, “We know that we will continue to learn with every project we take on.”
Like Godden, Martha Choe served on Seattle City Council. Then she became chief administrative officer for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. And now? “I’m ‘rewiring,’” Choe says—and that’s not a typo, folks. She is a consultant, serves on a number of boards (“organizations doing their part to make the world more equitable, healthy, and just”), and mentors young people. “I have decided to ‘charge’ for my time by requiring that whomever I spend time with gives back in some way to make the community better and to pay it forward,” she says.
Then there are the folks who don’t leave the arena where they’ve spent much of their adult lives. They just find “other things” to do within their chosen group. Like Sister Susanne Hartung. She began working with the Sisters of Providence, her religious order, when she was a teenager in Portland. She later joined the order—and she’s still there. “Ageless,” she says, when asked her age. She still works full time for Providence Health & Services, where she seems to be everywhere. “My life is fuller than anyone can imagine,” she adds.
Ellen Ferguson says she’s “mucked around museums” for more than 40 years. She finally landed at the Burke Museum, where she’s now co-chair of the campaign for the new Burke that will open in 2019 on the University of Washington campus. Like Sister Susanne, you see her everywhere—political fundraisers, other museums (she co-chairs the board for Seattle’s Wing Luke Museum), political fundraisers, student mentoring. “There are so many places to plug in,” she says. “It’s just a matter of choosing the right fit.
Is there commonality here? You bet.
Once these folks get started, they don’t stop. You can’t stop them. They don’t stop themselves.
They simply do. Certainly, they do for themselves, but far more for others. It is a point each makes, beyond any accomplishments they might have had or the plaques and awards they’ve collected.
They indeed are in the sun these days. In fact, none of them ever left it.
Terry Tazioli works part time at University Book Store in Seattle. He left The Seattle Times in 2008 and since then has been serving in various volunteer positions, hosted a national PBS book show called WellREAD, and now co-hosts an online and on-air book club produced by the bookstore and KOMO-TV’s Seattle Refined afternoon program.
The people mentioned in this article–and several others–were asked to write a short description of what they’re doing these days. See how they responded on our website at 3rdactmagazine.com.