Unretiring, with Passion

For some, retirement is about relaxing and traveling the world. For these women, it was about reconfiguring their lives and embarking on new career paths

by Alison Overholt
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Photograph: Big Cheese Photo/Aurora Photos

Mary Beth Casey, 58

Primary career: Advertising executive
Unretirement path: Travel franchise owner

As CEO and president of the advertising company N.W. Ayer, Mary Beth Casey was used to being away from home for long stretches. When she started at the company in 1997, she decided to live in Manhattan from Monday to Friday and spend weekends in Guilford, Connecticut, with her husband, David, and her two stepchildren. But years of long hours at the office, coupled with solo life in the city, took a toll. “I missed my family,” she says.

In 2002, Casey left her job. She had diligently saved throughout her career and at 47 had socked away enough money to afford a comfortable retirement. For the next several years, she gardened, rode horses, served on company boards and traveled.

But even in retirement, Casey’s reputation followed her, and soon she was asked to join J. Walter Thompson as vice chair of its digital-advertising organization. “I didn’t need the money, but the attraction of ‘They need me’ was bigger than ‘How am I going to make this work?’” she says. Casey accepted the position, and her commutes began again.

This time, though, the stint lasted just a year and a half before the appeal faded and she quit. She’d come to recognize, however, that traditional retirement didn’t suit her personality, so she threw herself into volunteer and nonprofit work.

Then, in 2008, David accepted a job in South Florida. “I decided if we both love work so much, let’s at least work together,” she says. She began researching business opportunities that would combine her knack for building teams with David’s talent for sales and marketing.

Buying a franchise appealed to her because of the track record that comes with an established company. Casey Googled “U.S. franchise opportunities,” and the first brand that caught her attention was the travel company Expedia, particularly the branch that books cruises. Still, Casey was hesitant. “It was a lot of money, and we had too much business experience between us not to ask, ‘What’s the worst-case scenario?’” she says. To quiet her fears, Casey spent four months researching the company.

In 2009, confident that she’d done her homework, she and David paid more than $200,000 to buy Expedia’s first U.S.-based CruiseShipCenter. Several years later, the couple support 110 independent consultants who sell vacation packages. Their franchise experienced a 30 percent growth in sales in 2012. But for Casey, it isn’t about the money. “The real satisfaction comes from nurturing the people who work for our company,” she says.

Casey’s unretirement tip: Expect to work hard. “Buying a business will probably be more difficult than anything you’ve done, but by building a financial investment in the future, you’ll find a sense of achievement that you may not have had before.”

Ruth Wooden, 67

Primary career: Head of a nonprofit
Unretirement path: family counselor

At 57, Ruth Wooden left her job in public relations to become president of the nonprofit think tank Public Agenda. Just a few years later, as she approached 62, she started to feel restless. Not long after, her mother was diagnosed with colon cancer. Wooden struggled with how to perform at her job while making herself available to take her mother to doctor appointments and help her live out her final months comfortably.

Wooden’s epiphany came in April 2010, when she was in London for a conference and a volcano erupted in Iceland, grounding flights across Europe. “I realized that I didn’t want to resent that I had been working while my mother was dying,” she says. As soon as she got home, Wooden gave notice.

First published in the December 2013/January 2014 issue

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