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A Trip to Belize Makes Neal Langerman's Retirement Bucket List

Neal Langerman explains how he knew it was time to retire, and why Belize is in his future
Passport on a table next to jar with money labeled "travel"
Image credit: iStock by Getty Images

Did you choose retirement? Or was it chosen for you?    

A bit of history for context. After 15 years on a traditional academic chemist’s path, I established a small chemical safety consulting company and left university life. The company grew until it employed some 15 degreed chemists and chemical engineers. After trying unsuccessfully to create and implement an exit path, I downsized the company, making sure each of the staff found satisfactory employment, and began a journey toward retirement. I am still on that journey.

The answer to the first question is I saw age impacting my ability to work full time and realized I needed to slow down. My body, and my mind, told me it was time. Happily, I was able to move into a retirement lifestyle which I defined and fit me.  

How did your identity change when you left your formal career?

My self-identity did not change substantially. My journey allowed me to maintain a professional relationship with a chemical company with whom I consulted for 23 years, since their creation. The owners and many employees are friends as well as clients. Continuing work with them allows me to keep my mind focused on safety and regulatory issues. But, I had much more available time to pursue another passion, photography.  

Do you still stay connected to the chemistry enterprise? If so, how? 

I continue to be active professionally, as outlined in the previous questions. I remain active in ACS with CHAS, SCHB, and Corporation Associates. I have begun exploring questions surrounding diversity, equity, inclusion, and respect, and how the apparent low level of racial and ethnic diversity impacts the EHS profession. This exploration, begun in 2019, is yet another journey of exploration and awareness.

Did you move when you retired? How did you make that decision?

On 11 March 2020 Sharron and I returned from Belize, where we were starting arrangements to relocate… and Covid-19 was declared a pandemic. Now, more than a year later, we are resurrecting our plans and hopefully will be living in Belize by the end of this year.

Our big driver to select Belize is our mutual love of the underwater world. We defined some criteria that focused our location search: warm, clear water, good local healthcare, ease of travel back to the USA, a stable local government and economy, and, affordable. Belize has the added advantage of good connectivity, so we will be able to continue much of our online life, even in a Caribbean paradise. Our intent is to relocate for a limited period, 3 – 6 months, return to the USA and then decide how to proceed.

Calico Rockfish (image courtesy of Neal Langerman)

What do you wish you knew about retirement before you retired? 

I was fortunate to get good financial planning guidance during my first faculty position in 1970. I was also fortunate to create a career that did not include a mandatory retirement age. If I had not been advised to fully fund a retirement account continuously from about age 30, then I would be wishing I knew more about retirement funding. If I knew I had a mandatory retirement ahead of me, I would be wanting guidance on planning “what is next”. If you find yourself in either of these situations, develop answers as early as you can. Life goes by much too fast.

What is your best piece of advice for people thinking about retirement?

  • Have a clear vision of how you will keep your mind and body active. The most exciting comment I love to hear from my retired friends is “I can’t believe how busy I am. The days just fly by.”
  • Have sufficient funds available so money does not hamper enjoying your new lifestyle.
  • Be flexible and relish your increasing awareness of your own mortality. Live every moment.

Neal Langerman, {Retired} Principal Scientist, Advanced Chemical Safety
Neal Langerman, {Retired} Principal Scientist, Advanced Chemical Safety

Dr. Langerman is a chemist, earning a PhD in biochemical thermodynamics at Northwestern University. He received a BS in Chemistry from Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Following a NIH Post-Doctoral year at Yale, he joined the faculty of the Departments of Biochemistry and Pharmacology at Tufts University Medical School in 1970. In 1975, he went west and joined the Chemistry Department of Utah State University. At both Tufts and USU, he assumed responsibility for departmental safety programs. In 1979, Dr. Langerman learned of RCRA, and this started him on his career as a consultant. 

Dr. Langerman established his first consulting company, Chemical Safety Associates, in 1980, in conjunction with other members of the USU faculty. He headed this firm until 1997, when he sold his interests in MSDS production and set up his current consulting firm, Advanced Chemical Safety.  

Dr. Langerman’ s professional interests are in the prevention of chemical incidents and injuries. His professional time is spent consulting on chemical safety & security, and regulatory issues. He served as the Chair of the Division of Chemical Health and Safety of the American Chemical Society in 2004 and also, in 2004 and 2013, received the Tillsman-Skolnick Award for contributions to the field of chemical health and safety through the ACS from the Division.

Dr. Langerman is an avid SCUBA diver and photographer.

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.

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