Mention Bill and Betty Smith to anyone in Mystic, and you’ll get the same response. Dynamos!
Kathryn Keller, the director of development at Mystic Area Shelter & Hospitality (MASH), says, “Bill and Betty are engaging individuals who are entirely committed to giving back to the community. Seeing them work together so seamlessly is inspiring.”
The Smiths indeed have involved themselves in many worthwhile projects since their retirement. They are both currently on the MASH board of directors, Betty has chaired the gala committee for the last two years, and they are deeply involved and committed to the Mystic Rotary.
Bill grins as he elaborates on his progression to retirement. “I retired in 2008 after almost 12 years as general manager and corporate VP at Hewlett Packard, by way of Kodak, Sterling Drug, Bristol Meyers, a teaching gig at University of Connecticut, MBA at University of Texas, undergrad work at UConn, and graduation from Fitch High School in 1974.”
Betty laughs. “I retired in 2009, to answer your question.”
One of the interesting things about this volunteer team is that they worked together at three companies. Betty also worked at Hewlett Packard in Human Resources. “More specifically,” she says, “in college recruiting for HP, but also Kodak and Sterling Drug Corporation.” Bill chimes in. “We met through work, and worked together for about 20 years. That’s a lot of time together,” he says.
Being so avidly dedicated to volunteerism, it would seem that has always been the case, but not so. Being focused on corporate careers, working sixty-hour weeks, and raising their daughter left no time for much of anything else. “Except for our church,” says Bill. “We’ve been very active in church throughout our lives.”
Both Bill and Betty agree that being successful in their careers allowed them to retire relatively young. Bill tells a favorite story about three phases of life and three key elements during that time: time, money, and health. “When you’re young,” he says, “you have plenty of time, you’re healthy, but you have no money. When you get older, you have time, you have some money if you’re lucky, but your health might be starting to fail.” He smiles. “We’re in that sweet spot where we essentially have all three and this gives us flexibility. We can do what we want, work on good causes, work with people we enjoy. It’s very empowering.”
Betty adds, “We’ve spent 26 years together and we like being able to continue to spend time together. We can now do the things that we’re passionate about, where we can add value to different organizations that are really important to us.”
The list of volunteer projects is significant, and the Smiths probably work somewhere between 20 and 30 hours a week. Both Bill and Betty are very active in the Mystic Rotary Club. Betty is the president and Bill is the treasurer. They are both on the MASH board of directors, both involved with the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce and Foundation, and the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center. Bill is usually involved in six or seven projects at a time. He is the Town of Groton Adjunct of the Economic Development Committee, a regular greeter at the Stonington Welcome Center, and active in the UConn Alumni Association.
In addition to her presidential duties at Rotary, Betty chairs galas for MASH and the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center, is chairman of the Greater Mystic Chamber Foundation, and helps with fundraising for Sophia Sees Hope, an organization looking for a cure for inherited retinal blindness.
The question of “why volunteer,” as opposed to spending retirement on the golf course or traveling, generates an immediate response from Betty. “From my perspective, it’s because we can and, frankly, we all should,” she says. “Think more about how to give back to the community or an organization. Have a sense of caring about what happens.”
Bill adds, “You have a certain pride. You want to see your region succeed. You can probably make a difference.” Then he smiles. “‘How dull it is to pause, to rust unburnished, not to shine in use...’.”
Betty shakes her head. “I didn’t know you knew Tennyson. You never stop surprising me.”
Clearly, spending retirement time together helping others has made a good life even better.