Today my friend Wanda officially retires after nearly four decades with the Dallas Independent School District. She posted daily countdowns on her Facebook page like someone anticipating the day their kids head off to summer camp. She got so excited one day last week she stumbled in the parking lot and bruised a toe. I told her it was a good thing she didn’t fall headlong into a car; otherwise she could have ended up in a vegetative state at the county hospital and ultimately not enjoy retirement. I always like to help my friends imagine the worst possible scenario and thus, be thankful it wasn’t any more serious. If you knew the history of the DISD – with all its internal bickering, racial strife, financial irregularities, dramatic personal escapades and even threats to bring guns to monthly meetings (that actually happened once in the late 1990’s) – then you’d know why Wanda is glad to leave. If you knew Wanda, you’d understand what a dedicated teaching professional really is. She could educate the educators on what it means to be committed to your role as a community leader and realize it’s not a job – it’s a calling.
I met Wanda in the summer of 2001, when I joined the Toastmasters club of which she was already a member. She was – and still is – a great personal inspiration. Her job as a speech pathologist didn’t just allow her to succeed in Toastmasters. She isn’t selfish like that. Wanda viewed her profession as an extension of herself and succeeded in helping other club members become confident public speakers. And, there are few things to instill more self-assurance in a person than speaking before a crowd.
I’ve known a number of people – relatives, friends and former colleagues – who have retired. Many planned carefully for it; others had no other choice. My mother retired in 2003 at the age of 70; thankful she never took my dad’s advice to just be a housewife. My father, however, was forced into retirement at 62 nearly a decade earlier. The printing company where he’d sacrificed so much of his life shut down without notice. People give a lot to their work places where they often spend more time than with their own families. They have to deal with a gallery of personalities, bully bosses, rude coworkers, impossible deadlines and pitiful raises; they go in when they’re sick or have sick children; they give up vacation time to get a task done; they fight traffic and inclement weather. People endure quite a bit just to get that paycheck and feel whole and complete. So, when they’re ready to clock out for the last time at 60 or 70-something, they deserve all the good things our society can offer and not just a pretty cake or a plaque saying ‘Thanks.’
After she gets used to not waking up at 5 or 6 most every morning, I don’t know what Wanda plans to do with her time. I can only say I envy her – really, really envy her – and wish her the best.