Retirement During a Pandemic

By Loretta Orndorff, Director of Library Services, Retired from Cozen O’Connor in February 2021 and Recipient of the 2021 PLLIP Hall of Fame Award

Retirement at any time is anticipated, planned for, worried about, and then I think the inevitable just happens. Most people who retire, usually do so only once although a dear friend’s husband, George, retired 3 or 4 times!  As he passed his mid-70s and lost his eyesight, he retired from his church.  Within a year or so he was called to be minister of another church.  After retiring from that second church he was called back into ministry at another church or two before his last retirement finally stuck.  George was a Master Retirerer! 

I am happy to retire only once.  Retiring during a respiratory pandemic was certainly not anything I could have imagined!  When I set my retirement date for February 1, 2021, and started to think about winding down and cleaning up from working almost 24 years as a Library Director at Cozen O’Connor, my most remote guess of the cause of professional, societal, and personal upheaval would have been an approaching world-wide Pandemic. 

As I planned my retirement pre-Pandemic, I realized it would be an abrupt change from the office routine and a cutting off of the normal daily interactions. My big disruption happened almost one year prior to my actual retirement.  The sudden and unexpected lack of normal collegial interactions was further compounded by the changes in normal social behaviors and activities that round out the other parts of our lives.  Thankfully my library work did not slow down.  The work load coupled with concerns for my family and friends, pushed thoughts of my upcoming retirement aside until late 2020.

My Firm sent us home to work remotely on March 17, 2020.  Within about three days our fabulous computer department had almost everyone up and running.  While the switch over felt seamless to most of us, it certainly could not have felt easy to our computer department who worked tirelessly till everyone was settled into WFH mode.  The order to leave the office was so abrupt that people only had time to grab their laptop and a very few work items that were not already incorporated into a database.  In the scurry to get safely home, everything was left behind, personal belongings and any non-mobile equipment were simply left in place.  Certainly the situation would be under control in the not too distant future…right?  When I returned to clear out my office fifteen months after the order to WFH, things were mostly as I left them with a few additional piles left by the mail room.  The most impactful strangeness of my office was the lack of people, the audible hum of the HVAC system which ordinarily would have been obscured by the hubbub of activity, and the very odd feeling of settled quietness which cemented the profoundness of what had happened to us all.

I know I am the social sort and expected that I would miss the people.  At the beginning of 2020 I planned to be retired in about one year; however, when we all transitioned to WFH all focus had to be on figuring out all the new how-tos:  how to obtain food and necessities and keep our families safe, how not to watch too much news, and how the heck to reconfigure working life and personal life as a new “normal” to get work done and to help family and friends maintain a sane balance in these strange times. When we all dashed from our offices, I was not really focused on how the lack of personal interactions and friendships from the office would affect me.  During the first two weeks of discombobulation, I was absolutely exhausted by week’s end.  The Firm soon started a very effective campaign of Webex and Zoom sessions to help us feel supported and connected.  Still I missed my librarians, the people on my floor, library colleagues, my vendors, the people I’d see in the course of a pre-Pandemic work day like, the mailroom guys whizzing up and down the hallways, the folks who worked in my building, the people I was used to seeing at my parking garage and coffee shop.  After a while I realized that all those social connections throughout the day, de-stressed me and told me that the world was a safe, normal place which, of course, during a Pandemic it is not.

Two weeks before my retirement date I had a lovely retirement Zoom and it was time to refocus on retirement!  Work colleagues and friends hopped on the Zoom to tell stories and send me off with so many good wishes.  Normally I would have walked around and bid farewell and shook hands and given and gotten some hugs.  But not during a Pandemic!  Considering the limitations, the Zoom party was great fun for me, and I was grateful for the planning and coordination of my co-Director who apparently is the best party host ever. Early the morning of my last day, I sent out a farewell email to everyone and many more people responded to me.  I was able to remain connected to my email four more days to finish up the last of my projects (and to also finish my responses to my co-workers!)  That was one heady week in which I was able to touch base with so many people, some of whom worked with me over more than two decades.

While I can only guess what my retirement would have felt like without a Pandemic, I know what my Pandemic retirement was for me.  February 2021 people were necessarily very cautious and waiting for the vaccine.  I come at all of this from a position of humility and gratitude.  I’ve been very fortunate to have worked for almost 24 years for a very dynamic Firm.  I watched and supported my Firm as it grew from 250 attorneys to around 775 and from 10 offices to 30.  Early on we were gathering print libraries for our many offices.  I had a staff of librarians who were the best allies in our endeavors to provide the best support for the work of the Firm.  I watched my staff re-sculpt the print libraries into digital collections, giving the researchers easy access to so much more data.  Over my 45+ year career, with the last 24 at Cozen O’Connor I saw the transformation of law librarianship from Keeper of the Books (with document retrieval) to the source of Expert Researchers that would support the attorneys, paralegals, and administrative departments wherever the pursuit of information took us. The Library finds what others cannot! 

When I graduated library school in 1975, who could have imagined all this?  It really has been the most incredible ride and I am proud of what librarianship has become.  My first AALL conference was in the 1970s in Rochester, NY, and I remember the sweet and very hokey vendor Sing Along with popcorn and word sheets.  From such humble beginnings, law librarianship refocused our craft to wide ranging and sophisticated reference, incorporating digital content and becoming an integral part of our Firms’ successes. 

Several years ago, when I anticipated a normal retirement, I envisioned a short speech with some anecdotes at a gathering of colleagues and friends.  At that time I very much wanted the face to face farewell gatherings, the feting after such a long career.  But honestly how can I bemoan those losses when in reality I have been so very fortunate?  My career in law librarianship allowed me to be a part of something really important. 

Recently, I was invited by one of my very large vendor teams to lunch.  They not only invited me and my co-Director (now The Director) to lunch but we all sat at the same table in the corner of our favorite restaurant!  As I sat with these people who had become friends and allies and had contributed so much to our Library’s success and told and retold stories of negotiations that allowed us to grow, expand and enrich the Library’s offerings, I have to admit to very warm feelings, a deep gratitude and satisfaction and being a bit verklempt. 

The reality of my retirement is the acknowledgement of a satisfying career full of talented colleagues, meaningful work, accomplishments, and being a part of something really important, and that cannot be diminished, even by a Pandemic.

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