Did you choose retirement? Or was it chosen for you?
I was a tenured, full professor of chemistry at John Carroll University. When I turned 65, I requested that my faculty status be changed to retired. There was no pressure from above to stay or to go. However, several of my younger colleagues were impatient for me to step aside. Still, the choice was mine.
How was the transition from the working world to retirement?
Leaving the classroom was intended to be a simple event, a clean break. However, there was a glitch. Fate had other plans. I taught three-and-a-half enjoyable and rewarding summers at Case Western Reserve University before my transition was complete.
Looking back, what do you wish you knew about retirement before you retired?
Aside from this unpredictable glitch, the transition proceeded as expected. I knew that “retirement” was inevitable and I had planned accordingly.
So far, what has surprised you most about retirement?
The biggest adjustment was in time management. I should have known that moving from a structured schedule to an open one would be jarring. It had happened once before when I began graduate school. I had forgotten how much work self-discipline required.
George Bernard Shaw said, “Youth is wasted on the young.” Assuming they would listen, what’s your best advice for someone in their 20s/30s?
My advice to those still in harness: prepare, plan. Find something to retire to, something that will get you out of bed in the morning, wind you up, and send you on your way. Sitting on your porch, with your feet up, and watching the world go by, seldom ends well. Isn’t there something you always wanted to do but there was never the freedom and the time to do it? Now is your chance.
What do you enjoy most about being retired?
I most enjoyed reinventing myself and building a second career. I began to write crime fiction with an academic setting. These “Entertainments” now number nine. To steal a line from Rossini, they are the sins of my old age. For details, see http://www.JohnTKWalsh.com.
What’s the biggest challenge you have confronted to this point in your retirement?
My biggest challenge was learning how to say NO! – firmly, but politely. When they learn that you are retired, too many well-meaning people seem determined to find things for you to do to fill your time. They mean well, but it is not helpful.
How do you stay connected to the chemistry enterprise as a retiree?
For me, keeping up with chemistry proved difficult. I no longer subscribe to any journals. I do read C&EN and The American Scientist regularly. If there are ACS local section meetings, I rarely hear about them.
What’s a travel destination you can’t wait to get back to?
At our ages, my wife and I do not travel much. Vancouver, B.C.; San Francisco; Lake George, New York; and Point Lobos, California, are treasured memories but I don’t expect to see them again in person. I do regret that I was never able to tour New Zealand.
What do you like most about where you are living in retirement? What’s one thing you wish you could change about where you live?
We live on a barrier island in the Gulf off Florida’s nature coast. The weather and the scenery are wonderful. There is no snow, no sleet, no freezing rain, no frozen fog. Winter visits, but it never stays very long. If I ever doubt that we made to right decision, I turn on the television and watch the winter mayhem up north. The people, colleagues, students, and friends are what I miss most. Writing is a solitary and lonely occupation.
If it was in my power, and sadly it is not, I would change the toxic political climate in this state. Putting responsible adults back in charge is long overdue. But don’t hold your breath waiting for it to happen.
What guidance do you have for people who are getting ready to retire?
For most of us, retirement is as inevitable as death and taxes. However, you can anticipate, plan, and prepare. Find an agreeable place to spend the second half of your life. Arrange for financial security to last you through these years. Choose your second career and pursue it with passion. Enjoy these years. You have earned them.
James Walsh was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, the eldest of three children. His mother was a housewife and his father a member of the New York City Police Department.
James is a product of the parochial school system. He completed grammar school at St. Patrick’s in Brooklyn, and high school at St. Francis Xavier in Manhattan. After short stints at Notre Dame and New York Universities, he earned a B.S. in chemistry from Fordham University in the Bronx.
His graduate training was at Purdue University where he earned an M.S. in physical chemistry and a Ph.D. in organic chemistry). While at Purdue, he spent three years as a full-time instructor. There he met two of the major influences on his life: his future wife, Ann Marie Nicklas, and his mentor, friend of long standing, and most forthright critic, Dr. Derek A. Davenport.
In 1963, he joined the faculty of John Carroll University (JCU) in Cleveland as an assistant professor. He retired from JCU in 1999, as a tenured full professor. Then he taught three-and-one half summers as a visiting professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
James and Ann now live on Treasure Island, FL.
This article has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.