American readers of this blog are celebrating Presidents Day. There are currently five living US Presidents, representing the Greatest Generation (Jimmy Carter and George Bush, both born in 1924), leading-edge Boomers (Bill Clinton and George W Bush, both born 1946) and the trailing-edge Boomers (Barack Obama, born in 1961).* They also represent varied attitudes and approaches to retirement.
Jimmy Carter: Carter was only 56 when he was unexpectedly forced to find new employment. His response was to throw himself into volunteer groups, improving housing and health around the globe. He dramatically increased the size of Habitat for Humanity and also began his own foundation. Carter even started a club filled with people like himself — The Elders, a group of former leaders working together for peace and human rights.
George H. W. Bush: “41” has kept active in humanitarian issues but followed a more traditional retirement plan: spending time with his family, traveling, trying to stay physically active. He marked his 75th, 80th and 85th birthdays by skydiving because, as he said,
“Just because you’re an old guy, you don’t have to sit around drooling in the corner. Get out and do something. Get out and enjoy life.”
Bill Clinton: It can be hard to find a new job in your 50s. Many employers see active adults as overqualified. Therefore many job-seekers find themselves starting their own ventures, as Clinton did after leaving the White House. A foundation to address international issues such as AIDS and poverty. Partnering with industry on product distribution (or, in this case, getting manufacturers to stop selling sugary drinks in schools). Writing a book or two.
George W. Bush: “43” hasn’t started a similar encore career. His retirement has been rather quiet, with an emphasis on books (writing his own memoir and opening his Presidential Library). Like many Baby Boomers, Bush has been challenged by heart health. Unlike many others his age, he needn’t worry about health insurance and successfully underwent surgery for a blocked artery.
Despite President John Quincy Adams’ claim that “There is nothing more pathetic in life than a former president,” few have been pathetic. Few have actually retired. History shows us they’ve been rather un-retiring.
Former Presidents served on boards or even the Supreme Court. They farmed, ranched and even designed universities. They fought battles against slavery, for human rights.
What will Obama do in his retirement? He’s got a leg up on most members of “Generation Jones” — a lifetime pension and plenty of warning to begin planning his next act.
As people live longer, more Americans — including American Presidents — find themselves having to define retirement in new ways. It’s fair to say none of them will be satisfied just drooling in a corner.
* Incredibly, the Silent Generation, whose members were the revolutionary leaders of the 60s (civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights), has never been elected the Oval Office.
Photo Credit: Reuters. Our normal Monday links round-up will be delivered to you tomorrow. Happy Presidents Day!