A move that grandmother would not approve

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Print this page by Robert Powell
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Robert Powell visits his grandmother with daughters Lydia and
Susannah in 1988. Photo courtesy Robert Powell

People in my family are not the retiring type.

My Grandmother Powell, who lived to be 97, grudgingly submitted to mandatory retirement at 65 after working for decades in the payroll office of a textile mill. (We have a newspaper clipping showing her scowling at a piece of fried chicken during her retirement luncheon.)

Soon grandmother became a bookkeeper at city hall in her hometown. She held the job until age 80 but again did not leave willingly. She claimed the mayor forced her out so he could hire someone younger. Over the mayor’s strenuous objections, grandmother demanded to receive unemployment benefits and won on an administrative appeal.

Her son, my father, was a dentist for 50 years. The Georgia Dental Association presented him with a plaque recognizing a half century of service to the profession when he finally sold his office at 73.

My grandmother, however, didn’t remember that when he visited her at the nursing home a few days later. “It’s 9 a.m.,” she said, looking at her watch. “Why aren’t you at work?”

I hate to think of the reaction I would get from grandmother if she knew I was stepping down as editor of Virginia Business at 66.

In my defense, I would point out that I’m still going to be around awhile, working part-time as an adviser during a transition period.

So, why change now? The answer is: This is the right time for me to make a switch.

I have been editor of Virginia Business for nearly 15 years, and it has been my dream job. The magazine has allowed me and my colleagues to have front-row seats in following the economic progress and travails of every region of the commonwealth. Virginia Business also has provided us with a platform to explore the role the state is playing in game-changing developments, such as the growing use of drones and autonomous vehicles.

Perhaps most important, the magazine and our daily e-newsletter have kept readers informed of business news throughout the state at a time when many media outlets limit coverage to their metro areas.

The magazine’s journalism has gained national attention. Since 2010, Virginia Business has received 21 awards from the Alliance of Area Business Publishers in a contest judged annually by the Missouri School of Journalism. (We have been notified that we will receive “one or more” awards at the next awards ceremony on June 27 in Atlanta.)

Although this has been my dream job, I feel it’s time to shift gears and pass the baton to the next generation. My wife has retired, and my daughter Susannah is expecting our first grandchild this fall. We look forward to more flexibility to travel and visit family.

Nonetheless, I wouldn’t feel good about leaving the magazine unless we had lined up the right person as my successor. Richard Foster is definitely that person. I have known Richard since he was an intern in the early 1990s at the business news department at the Richmond Times-Dispatch. His talent and diligence were obvious to everyone well before he graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University.

Since that time, he has been an award-winning writer and editor at several publications while authoring two books and producing a podcast. He has been a contributing writer for Virginia Business since 2006.

Richard has the right combination of talent, experience and digital savvy to take this magazine to the next level.

I look forward to working with him in the coming months and following his progress as the editorial leader of the magazine for years to come.

In truth, I don’t see my transition period at the magazine as the beginning of my retirement but as an off ramp to new opportunities I haven’t had the time to explore.

Like my feisty grandmother, I don’t like to be bored, and if I follow her example closely, I still have 31 years left.

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