1977 began my sixth decade. My eyes were really lit up. I had decided to take early retirement despite the fact that my job as Administrator of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, one of the Jewels of the Washington D.C. Smithsonian Institution, was a dream job. My philosophy of my previous jobs was “Take your leave, while the leaving was easy.” By making my own decision to leave, I left on good terms with everyone.
This is quite evident by a most fantastic retirement party by anybody’s standards. All the Associates of the Smithsonian Hirshhorn family and friends were in attendance. Glowing adulation flowed, there were gifts, paintings and other going away mementos. This outpouring of good cheer would send Thelma and I off with fond memories and a tinge of tears in our eyes. The following montage depicts the wonderful sendoff we received.

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Figure  # 10.1 A going away painting from the Hirshhorn.

A Retirement painting with me sitting on the Thomas Moore’s sculpture, “King and Queen” was one of the going away gifts from the Hirshhorn. Other various gifts included: Life-time subscriptions (see below), a Montblanc fountain pen and of course a tie.

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Figure #10.2 Life-time Subscription                  Figure #10.3 Mont Blanc Pen gift



Now the time had come to make my “Swan Song,” I took out my little notes and began what seemed like an eternity. Trying to remember the basic points from the Toastmaster’s speaking seminars

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Figure #10.04 Hand written notes for going away party


Like the old cliché, this is both a sad and joyous occasion. There is no question that it is a sad time, leaving the Hirshhorn Museum, the Smithsonian, and all my friends. But, on the other hand seeing you all here is a very happy occasion, and I thank you all for sharing this fond farewell. In my 37 years with civil service, I have been with eight different agencies. Happily, my longest tour was with the Hirshhorn Museum. My seven years with HMSG were exciting, challenging and fruitful. I was fortunate to have the guiding hand of Al Lerner, whom I have found to be a tremendous human being. And of course, all of this would not be possible without the great generosity of Mr. Hirshhorn. Since my retirement coincides with my 60th birthday, I would like to read from a clipping I have called “Thoughts On Growing Older.” **

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               Figures #10.5 and #10.6, Going away Speech

There was plenty of refreshments and good cheer, even the high octane kind.

9 10 11 Figures#10.7    Party spread  Figure # 10.8 Retirement Cake- “Four” Figure #10.9 Pick your poison -Potent and Plain

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Figures #10.10 and Figure #10.11, Receiving a beautiful Hirshhorn Picture signed by Staff

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Figure #10.12 Family picture with Thelma, our son-in-law Lee, daughter, Bonnie,                                                                          Mr. Joe Hirshhorn, Joe Sefekar, Mrs. Olga Hirshhorn and son, Bill                              Figure #10.13 Cutting the Retirement cake.


My personal friends were unhappy because they would miss their guaranteed invitations to all the opening art exhibitions hosted by the Museum. This always meant hot hor’douvres and most of the time came with an “open” bar. Of course, my wife decried the loss of invitations to the Smithsonian soirees. They covered the total intellectual orbit – the Jeffersonian awards, which honored outstanding individuals that not only contributed to the arts, but were outstanding in other fields. There was Sir Hillary, noted mountain climber who bested Mt. McKinley. We met Alex Haley who authored the outstanding book “Roots” which was converted into a mega four-part series. We can’t forget Isaac Asimov, noted scholar who was in the vanguard of the nation’s science fiction writers, a Nobel Prize winner, and the originator of the Law of Robots. At his reception, we discovered that he had lived on Herzel Street, Brooklyn. N.Y. where my wife had spent her younger years and coincidentally shared the same birthday.

Our friends at Parkside Plaza took it very hard. We developed a close association akin to the above referenced Herzel Street where everyone was close and lived one on top of each other, so to speak. We were on the fifth floor and had lovely neighbors throughout the building. We had a memorable going away bash just a tad different than the one in the confines of the Hirshhorn Museum. Gifts flowed, tears also flowed. We would keep in contact with many of these friends who would later head down the I-95 corridor, making the same trek down to Florida. Though most of them headed to the East Coast, Thelma and I’s plans were to locate on the West Coast in Clearwater, St. Petersburg near where her sister Renee and family resided.


Figure #10.14 Going away bash with friends at Parkside Plaza

One would ask why one would leave such a challenging, interesting and self-satisfying position, at the peak of accomplishment, in exchange for a sedentary environment in warm and sunny Florida. Well, the one who would ask was our family doctor, who I went to see for an inventory-type physical exam, prior to our sojourn to the South. He asked, “Why are you leaving your job where you are enjoying your work, you’re comparatively young (60), and apparently in good health?” I replied, “I like the idea of moving to Florida, and I think I am still young enough to get a suitable job there.” After 38 years in the Federal service, my pension would be equivalent to my current salary and I could work at any position without worrying about supervisory conflict, meeting work-schedules, and other work-related hang-ups. What made it tougher was leaving behind so many dear friends, people that we came to know and love. It was very heartwarming that equal expressions of loss flowed forth. One such reminder came from Betsy Hammer, a close assistant.

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Figure #10.15 Postcard from Betsy Hammer on my retirement

Dear Mr. Sefekar – You’re as much a part, to everyone, of the Hirshhorn as the beautiful works of art, and I know everyone will miss you. It’s you who’ve kept us smiling with your kind calm leadership. I’m the one who appreciates.

Cordially, Betsy Hammer

How can you express a feeling of leaving behind such wonderful, dedicated, and caring people that Thelma and I met and were so very fond of?

And so on Thursday, the 4th of August 1977 – we loaded up our two cars. My wife always spelled me when we went on trips, but this time she drove one car and I the other. We were using the auto train, which cut out about 15 hours travelling time. Leaving Washington, D.C., we traveled approximately 2 hours to the departure point at Quantico, Virginia. The cars were then loaded on the special train, and we were seated in coach.

After alighting in Sanford, Florida population 21,500. We claimed our cars and pointed to Palm Harbor, on the West Coast of Florida. The roads were new to us and the trip was dramatic to my wife, who drove the second car. We were introduced to the weather in Florida, where every day at 4 PM everyone is drenched in a deluge of torrential rains of H2O, then the sun appears and the skies are blue. Palm Harbor is on the West Coast of Florida, near Tampa, and St. Petersburg in the County of Pinellas. Population of Pinellas County was almost 700,000 now, almost a million. The population of Palm Harbor, the unincorporated area was maybe 10,000, now almost 60,000. We definitely picked a rural, soon to be a sprawling area. This was much like our migration to Syosset, Long Island in the 50’s which saw a tremendous growth occurring. It wasn’t as bad and certainly no comparison with our family and friends that migrated to the other “East coast” of Florida near Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and Palm Beach.

Our address was 750 Helmsman Way, Palm Harbor, Florida. It was an area more rural than suburban, there were horse farms and pastures, a retirement community situated on the outskirts of Clearwater.

Our initial days in Florida were fun as we became acclimated to the area and our home. Adjustment was easy because my wife’s sister and her husband Harry lived six houses down the street ­the sisters got along great, and we managed to keep the in-law situation controllable. As the saying goes, “you need a brother-in-law like a bear needs golf clubs at the North Pole.”

We lived in an adult community – no children under 21, – and we enjoyed the facilities available – golf course, community pool, clubhouse with social activities, and the 242 families were all friendly. We had regular monthly dues, and each one could do whatever they wanted to do, in this best of all possible worlds. The strangest thing was seeing all the housewives put aside their domestic tasks and taking up the game of golf – and they did well. Thelma, who had never ridden a two-wheel bicycle in her life, tried her hand at it. She learned the rudiments of golf and became the treasurer of the women’s golf association. She also joined the Pinellas Rose Society, and entered many rose shows, garnering First Prizes and several Seconds and Thirds. She returned to oil painting and added watercolor, oriental and charcoal drawings to her repertoire. She also won several prizes for her paintings; which will be “on exhibit,” later on. I wasn’t as competent as Thelma in seeking additional avocations, but I pursued my golfing interests, which I had taken up in Maryland and previously on Long Island, New York.

I had time to look for that pie-in-the sky position. I registered with the U.S. Unemployment Office, to see what kind of jobs were available. I felt a budget job would be easily available. I would read the local papers to see what news items could be parleyed into a respectable vocation. In Florida you have the State Government as the top echelon; then you have the counties (many); then the cities (myriad) and then unmanageable numbers of school districts, agencies, police and fire departments.

I filed for substitute teacher, and was qualified in business administration. As a substitute teacher you called up the night before, or you could be called at 6 a.m. when the regular teacher had an emergency situation. You never knew where the school would be. My first call one morning was at a nearby High School. I was assigned as a substitute to a typing class. The pupils were rambunctious and they thrived on substitute teachers. I gave them a test but I don’t remember too much of what went on; finally, the dismissal bell sounded. I was fortunate to survive this initial encounter. I guess my son Bill has a stronger constitution than I, because upon his retirement he took on life as a substitute teacher like a heavyweight going the distance; he’s in his eighth year and surviving in the “blackboard jungle,” right here in the same Pinellas area. Luckily, I never found out how my life as a substitute teacher would be because in early 1978, the job-seeking climate sort of cleared. Reading the local paper, I read about the new Manager the City of Tarpon Springs had just hired.

The next posting, part two (2) of Chapter 10, Retirement; Moving South to Florida, deals with the trials and tribulations of adjusting in the “Asphalt Jungle,” hardly a serious comparison but still open to many of the intrigues that small-time government harbors. From working with the Tarpon Springs Government, to the birth of our 1st grandchild and the beginning rumblings of a possible life-changing opportunity in the Performing Arts World.


Copyright © 2016      William Sefekar

** Material will appear in book.


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