Retirement…not just yet


Evans “Buddy” King

When I began to think about writing this piece, I said to myself that I was “going to take on” this topic.

Then I thought to myself, I am not trying to be Woodward and Bernstein here (for you who missed this phase of American history, suffice it to say that these two are the reason we put “gate” after everything these days).

I am not writing news articles, and I hope to be as far from an investigative journalism as humanly possible. I think of what I write as a “column.” My musings on things past or present or things to come.

“Blog” is way too Millennial for me and sets off my disdain for words that didn’t exist when I was in school. But this “column” will perhaps “take on” a subject in the sense that some of my readers will disagree with what I am about to write.

This column is on retirement. I guess I’m getting close. That’s what the Social Security and Medicare and AARP folks must think from the volume of unopened mail I toss in the trash every week. They must think something is imminent. Maybe they know something I don’t.

I did open one from the Social Security Administration recently. It told me how much I would receive at various points along the retirement trail. God bless them, but I didn’t see a number that made me say “yay, Bahamas here I come.”

I did see that I made my first contribution to SS in 1969 after my sophomore year of high school and have been pretty much a regular contributor ever since. So maybe it’s time to think about reversing the cash flow.

My law partners must think something is up too. Our executive committee requires every partner past age 55 to do a “STAR (Succession, Transition and Retirement) Plan.” We have to do this every year.

Until now, my approach has amounted to the professional version of a stiff arm, to borrow from the sports world, as I like to do. A bunch of words that sound good but when dissected must leave the reader saying “what did he just say?”

So, in other words, I do not have a “plan,” star or otherwise. The firm will survive without me, but will I survive without it? What is my plan for me? I am told by my retired friends that when you retire you need one of these.

Well, there you go, I guess then I am pretty unprepared for this next phase. Like football coach Bobby Bowden said about retirement, “there’s only one milestone left after you retire and it’s not a good one.”

I can quite literally account for every two-week period of my life since the summer after my sophomore year of high school with either work or school or both. No trip after high school graduation, no summer in Europe after college, no break between law school and work, no sabbaticals, not even a Betty Ford respite.

So it should come as no shock to me that I have no plan. I’m just surprised it’s gone by in the blink of an eye.

I hear lots of my retired friends say things like “I’m busier than I ever was when I worked” or “I don’t know how I ever found time for my job before.” With all due respect (the conversational kiss of death), they must be doing it wrong.

When I retire I expect to be less busy and less stressed. Having been in the private practice of law for the last 37 years, and having been on more boards and in more organizations than I can remember, I am looking for a little less. I think. It would help if I had a plan. Can I live without waking up at three in the morning and worrying about something?

Some in retirement take a new job. If they have to do that for the extra income I understand. But I have a wonderful job – I work with great, caring people and I have wonderful, interesting clients.

So I don’t see myself quitting this job for another. At the same time, I have no desire to pull the old lawyer’s trick of dying at my desk. If nothing else I wouldn’t want my friends to have to clean out my office.

One of my law partners and I use to talk about retiring to coastal Carolina and working part time as starters at one of the 10,000 golf courses in the area. You would get lots of a couple of God’s many great treasures – sunlight and greenery – sadly missing for significant periods of time in North Central West Virginia where I have made my life.

All you would have to do at this job is have a stop watch and be able to say a few thousand times “hit’em straight gentlemen and keep’em on the cart path.” Maybe someday, but I don’t think I’m there yet.

I truly don’t mean to disparage retirement for my friends who are there or hope to be soon. I am sure there are lots of rewarding activities and exciting adventures out there. But the prospect of going from 80 mph to 25 in a split second is terrifying, for me at least.

Of all of life’s adventures so far the only one that remotely resembles retirement in my mind is leaving home and going away to college. Everything since then has been what I expected and strived for. This one seems different.

Some have suggested I need more hobbies – like golf (tried for years but never found a competent pro or a course with 18 dogleg rights). Others have suggested woodwork – but having kept 10 fingers this long I have grown partial towards them.

I used to fish a little and I could go back to it, but catching things and throwing them back seems counter-productive.

I do have one idea that makes sense, for me. My great friends and clients own a Major League Baseball team – maybe they’ll let me be the bullpen coach after my retirement.

After all, I have spent a career answering the phone and I can tell my right hand from my left a good 55-60 percent of the time.

Evans “Buddy” King grew up in Christiansburg and graduated from CHS in 1971. He lives in Clarksburg, West Virginia, where he practices law with the firm of Steptoe and Johnson PLLC.