Time to Retire


The now defunct Fisk Tire Company used to run ads which contained the unheard of: a catchphrase with a non-sexual double entendre. The artwork depicted a child in pajamas, yawning, holding a tire in one hand and a lit candle in the other. Underneath was printed the sponsor's clever message: "Time to re-tire". Not bad, really. Cute and effective.

In recent months, thanks to a budget squeeze which manufactured golden parachutes for long-time state employees, we've witnessed many retirements from the court system. People we've come to like, know, respect and rely on have accepted the seductive and apparently generous invitations to retire.

These retirements produce a number of consequences, some immediate and obvious, some not. Perhaps the most immediate and most obvious is that we find ourselves invited to countless retirement dinners. Those who play by the old rules make it a point to respond to those invitations.

We feel obligated to show our respect by attending these events for people who have repeatedly helped us over the years by making our jobs easier. They have located lost files, called our offices to remind us to attach orders to motions, covered for us when we've blown court appearances and generally demonstrated common courtesies we sometimes forget to practice because the dangerous combination of a law degree and a hectic schedule can cause us to forget that we are not, like Waterbury, the Center of the Universe.

Well, ok, maybe we appear at the dinners and, following the bywords of the late Judge Tom Keyes---"When the man clears his throat, I clear the hall"-we leave before the speeches. And if we can't make the dinner we at least know enough to write a handwritten note of appreciation.

The next most obvious consequence occurs when we return to where these folks used to be and we realize they're not there. And they're not coming back. For a while we miss seeing them, but eventually a new routine emerges. We do miss old friends, but inevitably life goes on. We continue pushing the ball forward, trying, sometimes against all odds, to make it to the end of the day and avoiding disaster. The old faces become memories.

The subtler, more significant consequence takes longer and is harder to recognize. When the old warriors leave their influence fades. Their teaching by example isn't there any more. Their instinctive courtesy, kindness and willingness to help is no longer a daily presence that influences others to do likewise.

Inevitably this impacts on us and makes doing our jobs all the more difficult. The 10w 30 lubricant they provided to make "The System" run smoothly is no longer there. This means more hassles, more friction and more frustration. Things simply don't work as well without them.

The apparent financial savings of the golden handshakes are, to a significant extent, illusory. When things don't work as well there is a cost. Not just a dollars and cents cost, but an attitudinal one as well. That is significant. It evolves slowly and takes a while before we realize it's occurred. It's not as obvious as a retirement dinner or a new face at an old desk, but it's there.

So, when Patty Sappern isn't at the JD Clerk's Office, or Ginny Plano, Ed Saccavino and Herbie Reed aren't at the prosecutor's office, or the inimitable Annie Yopp is no longer energizing the courthouse at 121 Elm Street with an electric smile and a barbed insult, we miss them as individuals but we will miss their influence even more. When Martha Sullivan doesn't preside over the bar library [I'm told it's on the 7th floor of 235 Church Street] the books remain but the welcome is different. And there are many others whose presence has helped and whose departure will do just the opposite.

There may be a "time to retire" but that time is always better when those who decide to do so reach that decision on their own without a boost from on high.