More Execs, Professionals Can't Stop at 65

by Carl D. Holcombe  on Monday, Jan. 12, 2004 12:00 am  

When attorney Buddy Sutton speaks of his first days at the Friday Eldredge & Clark law firm to new attorneys and employees, their eyes widen at his longevity.

Sutton is not only one of those increasingly rare people who has worked for just one employer for his entire professional career. He's also one of the growing ranks of Arkansans and Americans who no longer view the age of 65 as the finish line in a desperate race to retirement.

For Sutton and others, hitting 65 is just a time to check the body and mind and hit the career track for a few more laps.

"I've been there 45 years," said the 72-year-old Sutton. "It's the only place I've ever worked ... I joined in 1959 when the firm was 7 years old, after I graduated from the University of Arkansas.

"(Employers now) recognize that people aren't as old at 65 or 70 as they used to be, if they're in good health and have kept their energy levels up. They're more vigorous from a working standpoint."

"I do give thought to retirement every day," Sutton continued. "There are facts of life that you cannot change forever. I don't want to stay too long, but I haven't made that decision yet."

Many older workers — attorneys, professors and executives — say they still have the fire in the belly and the joy in their hearts for their chosen fields. They can think of little else, besides applying their expertise and offering perspective gained over a few decades, that would keep their minds and bodies as agile.

"I have so much fun working," said Dr. Sue Griffin, 69, director of research at the Donald W. Reynolds Center on Aging at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock. "I'm still able to get grants, so there you are. I still want to do research."

Arkansas has an older population than the national average. About 14 percent of the population (374,019 people) were 65 or older in 2000, according to the U.S. Census, compared to 12.4 percent nationally.

That amounts to about 44,251 Arkansans at least 65 years old who continue to work in some capacity, according to the census. The Arkansas Bureau of Labor Statistics also projects a 5.5 percent increase in labor force participation rates for people at least 55 between 1998 and 2008.

The state has its share of high-profile executives who over the years have stayed at their posts beyond 65 — including Charles Murphy of Murphy Oil Corp., who died in 2002 at age 82, and William T. Dillard, who was still chairman of the board of Dillard's Inc. when he died in 2002 at 87. Louis Ramsay of Pine Bluff continued an active roll in both Simmons First National Corp. and the Ramsay Bridgforth Harrelson & Starling law firm until days before his death last week at 85.

Among the best known "non-retirees" still working in Arkansas is Frank Broyles, the 79-year-old athletic director at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.

In many capacities older professionals are continuing to make contributions to Arkansas businesses and institutions, while enjoying the mental and physical benefits and providing service to their communities.

"Retirement, as we've known it, is a creature of the past," said Roger E. Herman, CEO of The Herman Group of North Carolina, a firm of consulting work force futurists. "People will work — in some form — into their 70s, 80s and 90s. It's already happening.

"The majority of people won't retire for three reasons — their values say they must be productive members of society, they need the money and the vacuum effect of the labor shortage will hold them in the work force."

The Job

After handling thousands of cases and probably 500 or so trials, Sutton still works full-time. That means at least eight hours a day on the 21st floor of the Regions Bank Building in downtown Little Rock.

Although a litigation veteran and a partner for more than 40 years, he's adapted to a more administrative role these days. He draws upon the tutelage of past legal luminaries, including judges Pat Mathaney and William J. Smith, and Herschel Friday, who headed the firm for 20 years.

"I grew up in the trial section of the firm," Sutton said. "It's an everyday job to talk with trial lawyers about their business and give suggestions and opinions when they want it and check on clients on business. I try to look out for their interests.

"But it is a process where they come to my office and go over their situations with me. They're free to follow my advice or not."

He meets with the legal staff at least once a month, and lunchtime training sessions are common.

"They've been pretty kind to me. I've developed personally engaging relationships, and I feel the experience I have is valuable to them," Sutton said.

"They're easy to work with from my standpoint. They're very smart, but there is something you learn each year at a law practice that just accumulates."

He still finds time for the occasional trial.

In October, for instance, Sutton handled the defense of a Pulaski County nursing home that was sued. Although his client lost the case — as nursing homes almost always do — the fact that the jury awarded the plaintiffs a modest $75,000 made it a virtual victory.

"That's the kind of thing that draws me back," Sutton said.

Like Sutton, 69-year-old Carl Rosenbaum is still working eight to 10 hour days.

He has key positions at four companies, and thanks to an appointment by Gov. Mike Huckabee, he's in the third year of an eight-year term on the powerful Arkansas Highway Commission.

Rosenbaum is chairman of the board of Arkansas Glass Container Corp., a partner in Rosenbaum Bros. Partnership, on the board of Regions Bank and chairman of Safe Foods Corp., which is awaiting U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for a chemical that kills bacteria on food.

"I've been active in business a long time, and it's hard to stop," Rosenbaum said. "I try to help the young businesspeople. I saw too many friends where the result (of retirement) has been a decline mentally because they had nothing to do."

Some friends play golf or float the lakes and rivers for fish, but "I'd be bored to death. I like business, I like to help people," Rosenbaum said. "I've found hobbies restrict how a number of people are able to serve. It's more rewarding to serve people."

That service has included being a trustee of the Jack Hazlewood Evangelistic Association, first president and life board member of Youth Home Inc., an advisory council member at the Arkansas Department of Human Services' mental health division, a board member of the Greater Little Rock YMCA and past president of Community Concerts of Greater Little Rock.

"There are a number of reasons, but staying active physically and mentally extends life," Rosenbaum said. "The Bible says stay active in older age, and God put us on Earth to serve people.

"If you stay active, you stay young. I believe it gives me an opportunity to give back to society what society gave to me and my family. We each have the responsibility to give back to society, and God has given me an opportunity to do so."

W.E. Ayres, 73, of Pine Bluff said he's "technically" been retired as chairman of Simmons First National since December 1995. But it's hard to tell due to how busy he stays at a desk in the trust department on the eighth floor at the bank's Pine Bluff headquarters — the city's tallest building.

He serves on a loan review committee at Simmons, which offers input on high-dollar loans.

"We do some pretty healthy business," Ayres said.

The loan committee meets seven times a month, and he's in his office four days a week, although he has no other official bank duties and usually doesn't stay a full eight-hour day.

But, he's also on the boards of Simmons Trust Co., a Lake Village bank and the Economic Development Alliance of Jefferson county — which combines Pine Bluff's Chamber of Commerce, Industrial Foundation and Port Authority.

Ayres is also on the city's symphony board and helps with fund-raising for other nonprofits such as the local literary council, the Red Cross, the United Way and his church.

"Just sitting around playing golf or fishing seven days a week isn't very fulfilling for me," Ayres said. "It would get boring, although that can be enjoyable. I've seen lots of other people without outside interests work hard and get to the point where they think they can enjoy some activities they like, and they don't last too long.

"My wife and I agreed I needed an office somewhere," Ayres joked. "I'd probably impede her functioning around the house if I stayed at home."

At 80, William H. Bowen, a lawyer and former CEO of First Commercial Corp., is operating much like Ayers. He goes to his office on the seventh floor of the downtown Little Rock Regions Bank building almost every day that he is in town and spends about five hours a day there. He spends the time conferring with and offering advice to banking peers and handling personal legal work. Bowen, for whom the law school at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock is named, also devotes time to raising funds for UALR.

Bowen remained on First Commer-cial's board of directors through its 1998 acquisition by Regions Financial Corp. He had already blown past 65 when he served as Gov. Bill Clinton's chief of staff in 1991-92, became CEO of Health Source Arkansas in 1993 and was the UALR law school dean for two years beginning in June 1995.

Besides finding time for 50 for the Future of Little Rock, Bowen serves on the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, an agency within the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, which serves as an intermediary for business and service people.

He's also writing an autobiography with a working title of "Nine Lives," beginning with his childhood in Altheimer.

"I can't understand why some, unless they have life desires, like to stop working, or some like to hunt," Bowen said. "I like to feel involved, and if I feel well enough, I want to feel engaged."

Griffin said part of the reason she's stayed on at the Reynolds Center on Aging is because she's "lived her life like a man" professionally and is "still excited by science."

"I had a wonderful husband who gave me perfect freedom, was proud of me and made every step of the path easy for me," Griffin said.

With 40 people under her ranging in age from 23 to 55, she's able to play a mentor role.

"I teach them to be tough, because you have to be tough to stay in science," Griffin said, noting fierce competition for limited grants and positions.

Griffin admits that the battering of the stock market in recent years also encouraged her to keep working.

By nature of her research, she's also learned that foods with anti-oxidants — leafy greens and dark fruits such as plums, grapes and cherries — are good for health. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication can have dramatic effects in improving life for Alzheimer's sufferers.

One study indicated a 70-year-old person taking such medication for two years can reduce risks of Alzheimer's by 80 percent.

Benefits

There are personal benefits for all who continue working and serving.

"Older people are healthier than ever before, and as they feel better later in life, they want to continue working," said Andrea Wooten, president of nonprofit Experience Works, of Arlington, Va., which provides employment services for older workers. "(It) gives many people a sense of purpose and keeps them active, which also contributes to lon-gevity."

The continued mental gymnastics help keep people sharp.

"Anybody who's had a job they've enjoyed that involved lots of planning, thinking, learning and putting things together and watch it succeed," Ayres said, "will have a hard time watching TV for 10 hours a day. It isn't enough to keep them engaged.

"It keeps you challenged and your mind functioning when you're making contributions to the community. This community (Pine Bluff) has been pretty good to us; I've made it a practice to jump in and be helpful when needed."

"You have to have a game plan in place before hanging it up," Ayres continued. "You have to maintain a sense of self-worth and be successful in some things to help people."

Bowen echoed Ayres.

"It's important for mental health — acuity activity — and good overall health and sense of well-being," Bowen said. "If you don't use a muscle, it atrophies. The same is true of a mind, in my opinion, and the same is true of attitude. An interest in the community, schools, economy, the military — all these things make our country what it is."

Quality of life is better, too.

"My health is good and my energy is good, and I just want to be involved in something that's useful," Sutton said. "I don't look forward to sitting down. Things that a lot of people might get a kick out of don't appeal as much to me — although I do have some of that — like sports. As a main thrust of my life, (sports) do not appeal to me."

But, he's also attentive to personal performance.

"The main thing that concerns me is staying too long," Sutton said, "to where I'm not making a good contribution to the organization anymore."

 

 

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