Bill Smith may live in a retirement community, but as far as he’s concerned, retirement is for everyone else. At 87, Bill has worked as a hydrocarbon pipeline engineer since the 1960s on projects all over the world, including Cold War-era Russia and China, and was on one of the early design teams for the Alaskan Pipeline.
His first “official retirement” was in 1985 when his company moved to Houston. As a dedicated member of the First United Methodist Church, he chose to remain in Tulsa, but immediately opened his own consulting company in engineering management.
His “second retirement” came in 1997 but ended a few months later when his best friend and fishing buddy called him to say he’d just bought a custom metalcraft business and could use his help. Twenty one years later, he continues to work three days a week as the plant’s safety engineer and facilities manager.
He’s never taken a full year off.
Growing trend of working seniors
Bill is not alone. More and more people are working past the traditional retirement age, many out of economic necessity, but many because they enjoy what they do and the mental and social engagement work brings.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that by 2024, 13 million people age 65 and older will be working. While that may be a small percentage of the projected 164 million people in the labor force overall, the growth rate of those groups far outpaces other ages: 55 percent for 65-74 year olds and 86 percent for those age 75-plus.
Bill grew up on a farm, learning how to fix machines and refurbishing old cars with his father to make extra money. After serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, Bill attended Tulsa University on the GI Bill, earning his petroleum engineering degree.
“I enjoy creating something from nothing and solving problems,” Bill says. “There are lots of things to consider to get something from A to B and I’m the guy who knows what they are. I know how to get it done.”
Active in church and avid fisherman
Bill is quick to point out that he’s not all work and no play. He attends events and uses the fitness center at Inverness Village, where he has lived for 13 years, heading the Associate Appreciation Committee and serving on the Facilities Committee. And he’s still very active in his church.
And a couple of times each year, he and his fishing buddy-boss head out to a fishing resort for a week of fly fishing or spin casting.
Asked if he ever wonders what it would be like to wake up and not have the responsibilities and concerns that come with a career, Bill says, “I don’t know what it feels like, and I don’t want to know. Retirement is when people spend their time doing what they like to do, so I’m spending mine doing what I like to do.
“I have 50 years of experience doing this. I’m not ready to leave it behind.”