Around the world and home again
The view out the windows of a beautiful sunroom that overlook the mountains and the land farmed by his ancestors and, to the north, the Pocahontas County Country Club must be a bit of heaven for a West Virginia boy who loves to golf and returned home in his retirement.
That’s where Jack Gay and his wife, Ellie, are these days.
The road to retirement has been a long and serendipitous journey for this couple.
Jack was born in Buckeye in 1937, a son of Lewis and Marguerite Gay.
He graduated from Marlinton High School, received his Bachelor’s in Animal Science from WVU and his Master’s from the University of Kentucky.
From there he planned to enlist in the military because he was “tired of school.”
“Out of the blue,” he said he got a call from his advisor asking if he would be interested in teaching for a year at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky. The college need-ed someone to teach animal science while its usual teacher was on sabbatical.
Jack agreed to the one year, short term contract, and it was there that he met Ellie Gibson, who was a senior at Berea that year.
The two became engaged, and married in 1962.
Again, “out of the blue,” Jack received a call asking him to be involved in a 2,500 acre experimental station project at Auburn University in Alabama, and the couple began their married life there.
It was a good fit, Jack said. He was raised on a farm, had a degree in animal science, and Ellie was raised on a tobacco farm in Ohio.
Ellie taught first grade in Alabama that year, and in the fall of 1963, Jack was asked, “out of the blue” to be a part of a new program, implemented by WVU, which would provide teachers to Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
In their early and mid-20s, Jack and Ellie stepped up, and Jack became a teacher at Bukalasa College in Uganda.
“It was so natural,” Ellie said. “We loved the people, and they loved us. It was quite an opportunity to see the world.”
Jack said there was a lot of optimism there at the time – a different and very peaceful climate.
One of Ellie’s hobbies in, and prior to, retirement is birdwatching.
“Uganda is prime for birdwatching,” she said. “Africa is teeming with life. There are hundreds of species of beautiful, colorful birds.”
Jack agreed, adding that one-third to one-half of the bird species of the world can be found there.
“It was a wonderful experience,” Ellie said, “living on the equator. We were basically on a plateau with a perfect climate, perfect temperatures. We had mangoes and pineapples just outside our door.”
Jack spent the last two years of their adventure teaching at the Veterinary Training Institute in Entebbe.
“The students were wonderful,” Jack said. “We had mostly boys, but there were some girls. They really wanted to learn, and they wanted to succeed in life.”
“The people had very little,” Ellie added, “but they had a willingness to learn.”
Jack said you could grow about anything in Uganda, but most of the farming there was subsistence farming, which goes back to the history of Pocahontas County.
“Basically, what we were teaching there, was to expand their farming – more production – more money,” he said.
Ellie learned about birdwatching in those days, and Jack learned a thing or two about golf.
He had never golfed before, but he took it up then and continues to enjoy it today – in retirement.
In addition, the couple visited the Serengeti, and Jack climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
“We were exposed to the world,” Ellie said. “We got to see so much – Cairo, the Holy City, Jerusalem, Jordan, Israel – and we were so young.”
“We were really blessed,” Jack added. “But after six years we could see the political changes taking place and they didn’t look good.”
The couple’s two sons were born in Uganda, and when the time came to leave, Ellie cried all the way home.
“Not the babies,” she said. “The babies didn’t cry. It was me. I cried because I was leaving after living there six years.”
The couple returned to the states in 1969, where the political climate was changing, as well.
Jack decided to get involved in agriculture in the United States and started working on his PhD, but received yet another call “out of the blue.”
“If I wrote my biography, it would be called ‘Serendipity,”’ he said.
This call came from someone he’d met in Uganda, encouraging him to interview with Farm Credit.
And that interview ended his PhD studies.
Jack worked for Farm Credit in many capacities from 1969 to 1985, when he decided he wanted to start his own business and “write his own check.”
“With two boys in college, it was quite an undertaking,” Ellie said.
Jack and Ellie went into the retail business in Clarksville, Indiana, and from one store they expanded to 11. Ellie did the paperwork, and Jack kept the stores stocked and up and running.
“Our work was a great team effort,” Jack said. “We were in business for twenty-five years.”
In business, and highly rated by the companies who trusted them with their products.
“Sometimes we were in the top twenty-five in sales,” Jack said, “and sometimes we were in the top ten. We won a lot of trips.”
Trips that took them to France, England, Greece, Germany and Austria.
Although they have traveled and continue to travel around the world, they came back to Buckeye to retire and to live full-time in 2014.
They had also made several trips “home” through the years looking after Jack’s widowed mother.
Jack and Ellie began a remodeling project on his parents’ home in 2006, and remodeled Jack’s grandmother’s farmhouse on Buck’s Run, as well.
In addition to remodeling and decorating, both are avid readers.
“The great thing about retirement is getting up in the morning, drinking coffee and reading,” Ellie said.
Jack loves to play golf.
Ellie continues her birdwatching hobby.
They have bird houses and flower gardens, and Jack is a “puttering farmer.”
“I just putter,” he said. “Fix a fence, do a few odd jobs, just putter.”
They enjoy visiting local spots and hiking, Ellie said.
They go to shows at the opera house.
Ellie is a member of the Art Guild that meets on Fridays.
Jack volunteers at the golf course.
They are involved in the work of Marlinton Presbyterian Church.
Ellie plans their semi-annual trips abroad.
Right now she is working on the details for a trip to Nicaragua.
“Our passion for birds keeps us traveling,” Ellie said. “I would like to see every bird in the world.”
They have a son and three grandchildren in California, and a son and three grandchildren in Louisville, Kentucky, so that requires planned trips, as well.
“Retirement is a good life,” Ellie said. “I wanted to do it when I was fifty. But we had to work until someone bought the businesses.”
What advice do they have for young people?
“It’s really hard to plan for retirement when you’re younger,” Jack said. “When people get to be fifty-five or sixty or when they approach that age, they are either not financially prepared or they haven’t thought it out.
“If you can’t enjoy yourself and your life when you are thirty-five, thinking ahead that you will enjoy yourself and life when you retire – well, that is not so.”
Ellie focused on hobbies.
“I would say, when you’re thirty-five, figure out what you really would like to do if you weren’t busy with a job and raising a family. Say, ‘I’d like to – fill in the blank.’ Then ask yourself how you could do that. Could you start a bank account to help make it happen?
“From 1985 to 2010, I did not pick up a paint brush, but I knew when I retired that I wanted to paint.”
Ellie learned Japanese Brush Painting from a European lady years ago when she was living in Baltimore. Now, in retirement, she has time to devote to it, and she paints several hours each day.
“We don’t have as much structure,” Jack said. “You’ve got to learn to move from a structured life to an unstructured life. Take up hobbies, spend time with friends.
“Retirement won’t bring you happiness.”
I guess the lesson here is – you have to bring your own happiness to your life in retirement.