John Laird: Answering the call of grandkids, golf and gardening




The first column I wrote for The Columbian in 2003 began with a request: “Never mind where I’m from. It’s not important … .”

Back then, neither the past nor the future mattered. The dual blessings of living in Clark County and working at one of the country’s finest midsize newspapers kept me centered on the here and now. But, slowly, questions about the future began to pester me. The siren song of grandkids, golf and gardening grew louder.

In response to that call, several years ago I started trying to arrange the future, to the extent that the future can be arranged. Then, two years ago, I finalized a retirement date but chose to keep it confidential. Now seems to be the proper time to inform readers that, after 45 years in journalism, I will retire at the end of July.

Out of respect for the best employer I’ve ever had, giving six months’ notice seemed appropriate. This allows ample time for The Columbian to find another editorial page editor, and for me to assist in the transition if asked to do so.

About 10,000 baby boomers retire every day, so many of you have been down this same road. If you were fortunate, you faced two positive choices: continue in a job you love, or retire to the rewards that you spent 45 long years trying to create. Only recently have I learned how difficult each of your decisions must have been.

My choice was influenced by a friend who reminded me that his father loved his job just as much as I do, so he kept working until he was 70. Two months after retiring, my friend’s father died suddenly. He missed out on all those years of retirement. So I decided in 2011 after extensive research: If I can afford to grab that brass ring in 2013, I’m gonna do it.

This summer will bring the big 65. George Burns once said: “Retirement at 65 is ridiculous. When I was 65, I still had pimples.” Maybe so, but more persuasive to me is the fact I can still par a hole every now and then, and there’s no guarantee how long that’ll last.

I’m no expert on timing the end of a career. As the old saying goes, the best time to start thinking about your retirement is before the boss does. But I’m motivated to make retirement the best it can be, on my own terms. Err on the side of leaving too soon, and try to hit the finish line of the career running full stride.

My Geezer To-Do List is full of adventures, many sports related: one week in Hawaii this fall, and one week next March enjoying baseball spring training down in Arizona. Numerous forested trails still need exploring. There’s a wispy dream of getting the golf handicap under 18, and playing at least one golf course per week that I’ve never played before, always remembering the sage advice of the late, great Phyllis Diller: “The reason the pro tells you to keep your head down is so you can’t see him laughing.”

There also will be many trips chasing my two old buddies — Meriwether Lewis and William Clark — around the Northwest. And Canada calls. Alaska, too.

Do this; don’t do that …

On the other hand, there’s this Reverse Bucket List that I’ve been compiling. It’s a real beauty. My etched-in-stone RBL contains all of the stuff I will never, ever do in retirement: buy a motorcycle, wear socks with sandals, train for a triathlon, chase kids off my yard, write a letter to the editor.

Those of you who have already reached this milestone will agree that retirement is pretty much a precarious flight into Trial and Error Land. Friends have advised me to wait at least one full year before making any major decisions. No problem there. And since I’ll be retired, there’ll be plenty of time to not make those decisions.

I’ll write more about this later, but for now, you know the game plan. A small part of me worries that there’s too much printer’s ink left in the veins — and too much camaraderie left in the newsroom — for me to walk away from this without significant pain.

We shall see. I’ve got a few more months to write editorials and columns, and to practice the Retirement Strut that so many of you have perfected.

Or is it more of a glide? Time to start learning.