The late Gen. Douglas MacArthur, standing before Congress in 1951, quoted the refrain of an old barracks ballad, "Old soldiers never die; they just fade away."
MacArthur did not fade away but became politically active after his abrupt but justified dismissal by President Truman. He ran for the presidency, an interesting path for the general who loathed politicians, presidential appointees and civilians. MacArthur lost the primary and ultimately took the helm of the Remington Rand Corp. before his death in 1964.
Certainly, I thought I would fade away after retirement and blend with our graying population by clipping bond coupons, receiving pensions and enjoying stock yields, as my wife, Helen, and I sailed into the sunset. It all seemed so inviting. I even started writing a memoir and stopped because, in rereading my efforts, I was unable to conclude that anyone could bear slogging through my lifelong trials and tribulations. Admittedly, I fell asleep reading my autobiography. The only value of the book would be helping insomniacs that had tried every method to sleep and failed.
However, staying active after retirement became a critical aim. I've worked in some capacity or another since the age of 10. I expected to enjoy the opportunity to do nothing.
I came to understand that would be akin to stopping a train on a dime.
Retirement gave me great hopes, potential freedom after 57 years of servitude. I would take to the road, visit far-off places, sun at the beach and control my life. I would enjoy an end to mundane meetings, calls from the press, employee issues and impossible policy from Tallahassee. Free at last, free at last.
It took just two weeks for me to miss all of it.
I would have to admit that all travel plans faltered with Helen still working and the caring of our four pets, two of which belong to our children. There are no grandchildren; we dog-sit.
Within a year I was back at work. Fortunately, I continued to keep my medical license active and happily discovered that even old doctors can find employment.
I did keep working and volunteering up to 20 hours per week and on my own schedule. A couple of contracts came and went but currently three keep me fairly busy. One means full-time work for a short period.
Remembering Gen. MacArthur's comment about old soldiers and fading away, I was pleased to discover that old health officers can come back. Essentially, I run a health department during the transition of a retired health officer until the reappointing of a new one. The only scary aspect relates to being able to find someone to replace the former director. That has the potential to keep me in a working limbo and unable to hit the tennis courts in the morning.
Yes, I am running a health department again. Things haven't changed much — lots of problems to solve and threatened revenue. Deja vu all over again. Current concerns include swine flu, a serious public health threat; the start of the hurricane season; and an occasional beach closing. But I will admit it's fun rubbing elbows with a lot of old friends who tell me I look great, or better yet, relaxed. The tennis court has helped me shed a few pounds.
Two years before his death, Gen. MacArthur spoke to West Point cadets and concluded his remarks by saying, "My last conscious thoughts will be of the Corps, the Corps and the Corps."
I am hopeful that I will not make such remarks. The notion that my last conscious thoughts would be "the health department, the health department and the health department" would not sit well with my wife, three children or the dogs.
I am not sure what my last conscious thought would be, but for the moment I am very happy to work, to work and to work.
Dr. Marc J. Yacht of Hudson retired as director of the Pasco Health Department and currently is interim director of the Manatee Health Department.