Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


621(094) Retirement and A Work of Love

This is Retirement Talk. I’m Del Lowery.

Thirty-two years ago we retired. I was forty-four years old. I always thought that once I retired I would do exactly what I wanted, and that someday, I might not only do exactly what I wanted, but get paid for it as well. I would work at something I really did want to do on a daily basis and, at the same time, something that society would value; value enough to pay me for it. It never happened.

It rarely happens; where you get paid for something you’d do for free. I know some people say they love their work. I was one. But once I quit getting paid for it, I never went back. My mind went elsewhere, as well as my body. I recently made contact with an old friend of mine who has had the opposite experience. He retired and then did exactly what he wanted to do, and he does get paid for what he is doing. This is his story. And perhaps, just perhaps, you can pick up some hints that will make something similar happen to you.

My friend’s name is Lewis. I met him in Alaska on a cold, dark winter night in a small log cabin. It was at an organizational meeting for Amnesty International. It must have been about thirty odd years ago. He and a friend had contacted Amnesty and decided to try to organize the first Amnesty group in Alaska. I went to the meeting. He and his friend were both lawyers and committed to Human Rights work. They were both public defenders for the State of Alaska and fresh out of law school – true idealist.

We worked together to help establish and maintain the local chapter. We held monthly meetings. We wrote letters to government officials around the world. We wrote letters to prisoners. Most of the letters went unanswered. We continued to write. We hosted educational and outreach events in Anchorage. We held a candlelight vigil every December 10th – Human Rights Day. It was always cold and dark and usually not many people came. I remember dragging everyone I knew to some of the vigils that were always held in subzero weather on a windy corner in downtown. I remember one year I was discouraged and considered not putting a vigil together for that year. I complained about it at the dinner table one night and said, “There just seems to be only people we know that go to it - some friends and a few students.” My daughter, who was probably ten or eleven years old, then set me straight by saying, “Well, how would it be if no one showed up? How would you like that?” We held the vigil and the tradition continues to this day. We worked with Amnesty all of our days in Alaska.

Then we retired and left the state. A few years later, Lewis called from Seattle and asked if he and his wife, Becky, could stop by for a visit. He had just retired. And he wasn’t quite forty years old. He had beaten me by four years. They moved out of Alaska to Grass Valley, California and then to Salt Lake City. He continued his interest in Human Rights and his interest in the environment. Besides Amnesty International, he had been very active in the Alaska Land Trust. His two causes were about to merge.

He created an organization entitled “The Environmental Defender Law Center”, EDLC. You can visit their website at He approaches large, established law firms and encourages them to do pro bono work on behalf of people in distant lands who are having their human rights denied because of some position they have taken because of environmental issues; thus the merging of human rights, the environment, and law.

Lewis use to tell me that he has probably changed from levies into a pinstriped suit in airport bathrooms more than anyone in the world. Lewis likes to wear the old blue denim levies. He traveled in them; all over the place. But, work called for other attire. Thus the change into a suit was usually made in airports. Lewis is a Harvard Law School graduate. When he flies to the East Coast to recruit new firms into cooperate efforts on behalf of the oppressed today, I can only imagine the switch continues.

I recently got an email telling me that the ELDC had changed its webpage and email address. I contacted Lewis and found out a couple of things. They have now moved to Bozeman, Montana, where they can continue to ski and run in the mountains. He can continue to wear levies. And he is working full time for full pay running the ELDC. Imagine. He’s one lucky guy. He has seen his dream retirement/job become a reality. He is doing good work at just exactly what he wants. “I work a full day,” he said, “for a full day’s pay.” It’s work, but not work at the same time. We should all be so lucky, or capable.

I know others who have tried to retire away from work but just can’t or won’t do it. It seems to boil down to whatever each individual prefers. Some want to try something new and others prefer to just keep on trucking. It’s a choice.

I must add that our country’s economic changes may be playing a larger role in our attitude towards retirement. We seem to have entered an era when retirement is just not economically possible for many. The housing crises and financial bubble of a few years past have wrecked havoc on many retirement plans. On top of that illness, divorce or injury could have stepped in and ruined plans. Perhaps this is just another example of the ever widening economic divide.

This is Retirement Talk.

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