IS THERE LIFE AFTER RETIREMENT FROM THE FOREIGN SERVICE?
When I retired from the Foreign Service* in October 1993, I had all sorts of plans for the future, none of which involved a job. I started working after school when I was ten years old and had been at it full time ever since. It was the beginning of the war, and all the men either left for the military or took jobs in the defense industry, leaving a lot of less desirable jobs vacant. I told the manager that I was 13 and took a job at the "colored" movie theater in Little Rock, Arkansas, as the popcorn vendor. It was a great job -- free movies and all the popcorn I could eat! Because of that, I am still a popcorn addict. For three years I worked from 4 to 8 pm, Monday through Friday, and from 1 to 8 pm on Saturday and Sunday for the magnificent salary of $10 per week. From that time until 1993 I was never unemployed for more than a couple of weeks at a time.
Most of my colleagues in the pre-retirement seminar were worried about what they would do without the routine of a daily job. All of us had known this day would come, but most never planned for it. Many wanted to start a second career, some didn't want to give up the job they had, a few thought they would just play golf every day for the rest of their life. I knew there was a big, exciting world just waiting for me and I was eager to get to it.
I have had an eventful, exciting life, observed much, and over the years developed the reputation of being a raconteur. Friends have often suggested that I should write a book after retirement. So far I have written over 100 pages in short story form using the technique of creative non-fiction. I tend to write intensely in spurts and then set everything aside to age for several months while I do other things. There have been very few books about Foreign Service life written by an African American, and those I have read tended to be either bitter, pedantic or pedagogical. Mine will be neither. While my life has been difficult at times and I have had to work hard, I've loved practically every minute of it. I have met hundreds of wonderful people and stay in touch with many of them through mail, phone, e-mail, FAX and personal visits. My wife is my best friend, my sons and I are very close and we all enjoy each other as a family.
Very briefly, in my book I am describing what it was like as a young African American growing up in the segregated south, with a few chapters about my college years in New York and Chicago, and a chapter or two about my five year military career. The balance of the book is devoted to thirty-two years living in five foreign countries and visiting over 100 others with USIA. There is humor, sometimes against a back drop of a failed coup, a natural disaster, or a paranoid personality. I will explore my reactions to exotic cultures, foreign languages, strange cuisines, harsh geography, political strong men, glamorous women and some personal danger.
In the Washington metropolitan area the opportunity to study is great and discounts are often available for senior citizens. I have taken non-credit courses in various subjects at the University of Maryland, Montgomery Community College and the Writers Center. My wife and I have taken several Elderhostel educational trips abroad -- 28 days in Turkey one year and a 15-day study cruise in Greece this past summer. In addition, we go abroad independently every year for anywhere from one to four weeks. Since retirement, in addition to the above countries, we have visited Costa Rica, South Africa, Denmark, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Mexico and the Czech Republic. We have taken a cruise to the Caribbean and another to the Bahamas. Next spring we are visiting Egypt, taking a cruise on the Nile, followed by a week in the Holy Land.
We also travel a lot in the U.S. A couple of years ago, we flew to South Dakota and joined a fifteen day bus tour of the National Parks and Monuments covering South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, Arizona and Colorado. We have been to California and Las Vegas, the Philadelphia flower show and the U.S. Open Tennis matches in New York. The year we went to the Bahamas we spent five days driving down the Atlantic coast and out through the Outer Banks to Florida, avoiding the Interstate and visiting friends along the way. Another year we drove around New England in the fall watching the colors change and visiting museums and art galleries.
I am the President of the USIA Alumni Association, which has almost 700 retiree members. I am on the Board of Governors of Diplomatic and Consular Officers Retired (DACOR) and the DACOR-Bacon Foundation, which has over 10,000 members; a member of the Public Diplomacy Foundation; and the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), the professional organization of the Foreign Service.
My wife and I are members of a local church where I was recently elected to the Board of Trustees. We have a tennis court at home, so I play tennis at least three times weekly and work out at my club gym twice a week. We are theater buffs and see at least one play each month, sometimes traveling to Baltimore, New York, Pennsylvania or Delaware to do so. We go out to dinner at restaurants quite often, occasionally joined by friends or our two adult sons and their spouses.
Both my wife and I do volunteer work for our church and take long daily walks with our Jack Russell terrier. This past summer we celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary while in Greece. We are enjoying our retirement and love the freedom it brings.
*(At the close of his Foreign Service career, Mr. Morton held the senior USIA position of Deputy Associate Director of the Bureau of Management. Earlier, he had served as Area Director of the Office of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Country Public Affairs Officer at the USIA posts in Bangkok, Manila, La Paz, Kingston, with additional assignments in Bogota and Washington.)