Tending to the future of our community is a “worthwhile thing”

by Phil Burgess, Unabridged from the Life section of the Annapolis Capital, Sunday June 14, 2015

Eddie Sutton is 79 years old. Many in their bonus years will remember Sutton as the first basketball coach to lead four Division I schools to the NCAA finals, including two to the Final Four: Arkansas in 1978 and Oklahoma State, Sutton’s alma mater, in 1995 and 2004.

Award-winning journalist and Sutton fan Roger Rosenblatt reported: “When Sutton was coaching Arkansas, he asked his players what they did during practice. They answered, ‘Dribble and shoot.’ Then he asked them how much time they thought they dribbled and shot during a 40-minute game … The players guessed 12, 14, 15 minutes.

“Sutton told them that a more likely number was two to three minutes, and he also told them what that meant in terms of the game of basketball. ‘Most of the game is played away from the ball,’ he said, meaning defense and getting into position for a pass.”

As I read this, I thought, the same goes for the game of aging: Most of the game is played away from the ball — i.e., the “big” issues that dominate the headlines about aging.

Rather, the process of aging is a continuous story. It has its ups and downs like the rest of life. But most media focus on the explosive moments or volatile issues that erupt now and again into the public consciousness.

Examples abound.

Lots of attention is paid on the evening news to the mugging of the quintessential “little old lady” by a street hooligan. C-SPAN slots are filled with conferences, seminars and hearings about the mugging of the Social Security “trust fund” by spendthrift politicians or stopping fraudsters from raiding Medicare with “free” this or that, or unneeded tests that fill their pockets while emptying public coffers filled by taxpayers.

Like the basketball player, those in their bonus years also play a lot of defense. That’s why we spend a lot of time tending to our health, finding the right physician, sitting and waiting and then getting tests and prescriptions.

The news magazines are filled with ads about everything from tonics and diets to spas and exercise routines that will help aging Americans delay the grim reaper. There is no doubt that we play a lot of defense.

But, like the successful Division I roundballer, many in their bonus years also play away from the ball in order to get into position to receive a pass — and perhaps even to score.

I thought of this last week as I was attending a meeting of the Economic Club of Annapolis.

The club, which meets twice monthly at the Annapolis Regional Library, “is a non-political, nonprofit citizens’ forum for the discussion of important economic issues facing our nation.” Attendance is free. Speakers include state and local leaders and nationally recognized experts and leaders on economic matters.

The club is an initiative of Perry Weed, born in 1935, and his librarian wife of 42 years, Dorothy Fisher Weed. The club began and remains a family affair by two “retired” people who were positioned to take the ball and score.

And score they did, a point I made when I used this space on Jan. 13, 2013, to write about Perry Weed and the Economic Club.

The first meeting was held in October 2011. Thirteen people showed up. But the numbers kept growing. Audiences now average 64. The turnout record is 102. They have an active mailing list that approaches 450.

The meeting last week was significant to me because the speaker for the evening is also in his bonus years but, like many others, he has chosen to stay in the game full-time. I refer to Robert Hannon, CEO of Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp., and a highly-respected veteran in the world of economic development.

Hannon personifies the leadership philosophy of Max De Pree, author and former CEO of Herman Miller (office furniture). De Pree famously said, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.”

Hannon opened by describing some of the realities of Anne Arundel County — a population of 555,000-plus in more than 201,000 households in a metroplex of 9.5 million.

Median household income of $86,230, per capita income of $60,604 and per capital income growth of 3.9 percent — all higher than the averages for Maryland and the U.S. Unemployment sits at 4.3 percent, lower than the state and national averages.

Hannon showed that our growing industries are all in the “New Economy” sector — led by professional and business services, leisure and hospitality, education and health services. In a world where jobs follow people more than people follow jobs, Anne Arundel County is well-positioned for the future.

In response to many questions from an inquiring audience of more than 40, Hannon touched on the proposed Crystal Spring development, issues constraining the disposition of the David Taylor Research Center, the growing importance of Fort George G. Meade and especially new capacity-building around cybersecurity, an area where Hannon has impressive prior experience as project manager of the Baltimore-Washington Cyber Task Force formed to foster cybersecurity business development.

He talked about how the county has used financial incentives to help spur projects such as Annapolis Town Centre, Park Place, Arundel Mills and the mixed-use Waugh Chapel projects.

Hannon’s mission — to make Anne Arundel County the best place to work and start a business — is reflected in each of his projects and activities. Here is another man who has decided to continue to serve when he could be pursuing a life of endless leisure and amusement, and his decision is a benefit to all of us.

I’ve noted before that “a great life is the sum total of the worthwhile things you’ve been doing one by one,” a quote borrowed from Richard Bach, author of “Jonathan Livingston Seagull.” Both Perry Weed and Robert Hannon are engaged in “worthwhile things” that, perhaps most importantly, strengthen the social fabric of our community as they position us to flourish, both now and in the future.

Worthwhile indeed.

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