I HAVE A SECRET to share. I’m a Fire God, and quite proud of it. My first engineering job was with General Electric’s Aerospace Division in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. I started in the thermal engineering group. The group was responsible for the design, fabrication, integration, testing and operation of spacecraft temperature control systems.
An important part of the design was managing the heat input from the sun. Since the group “controlled the sun,” someone gave the group the moniker “Fire Gods.” I knew none of this when I joined as a young graduate. But I quickly realized that it was an exceptional group of engineers. They also had a personality that fit mine. I rapidly took to the work and meshed with the group. I got involved in the company-sponsored softball and basketball leagues. Our teams proudly wore their Fire God T-shirts.
Thirty-eight years ago, one of the senior members, Tom, bought a new home. He decided to invite the group for a Christmas party. It was a lot of fun, so he repeated it the following year. Each succeeding year, he asked if folks were still interested in attending, and each year the answer was “yes.”
I just returned from attending the 38th consecutive party. Due to the pandemic, last year’s party was a remote affair via Zoom. This year, Tom was able to restart the in-person party, with all attendees having been vaccinated and boosted. This year’s party was quite small. Most of those present were fully or partly retired. The oldest was 91 and youngest was in his mid-50s. Only one attendee is still working fulltime, and he’s retiring in March. A few of us are still doing some low-level consulting.
The party has changed considerably over the years. When I started, there was a nice mix of senior, mid-career and junior engineers. GE liked to rotate young people through assignments early in their career, so there was usually some new young blood to liven things up. As the night wore on, the party would get a bit raucous—or, at least, as raucous as a group of engineers can get.
Over the years, we’ve seen numerous mergers, sales, closures, re-openings and relocations of the business. The original group would now be considered part of Lockheed Martin, headquartered in Denver. Only a few folks still work in a small division in Valley Forge. Many dozens have left and gone on to work at companies all over the country.
Why am I boring you with this story? When I retired from fulltime work, my wife encouraged me to find ways to stay connected with friends and colleagues. She knew it would be important for me to maintain the friendship, common interests and intellectual stimulation they provided. There’s ample academic research to back this up. We need social connections in retirement.
But staying connected requires effort. Someone has to make the phone calls or send the emails to organize a lunch. Tom has made that effort, year after year, and it’s made a difference in the lives of many of us and helped us keep strong those unique connections built during our working years.
If you find you’re losing those connections, you might need to be the one to make the effort. Pick up the phone. Send the text. Write the e-mail. That small investment in time will pay big dividends.