Randy May never took the typical path. Early on in his social work career he realized that he enjoyed working closely with a team of people in mission-driven community organizations. In 2008, that desire took him to accepting a job as Deputy Country Director in Ethiopia working with an international HIV organization. He did well, and was later promoted and moved to South Africa. In 2012, he celebrated his 50th birthday by driving up to Kruger National Park with a colleague to enjoy the vast natural beauty of game park and the wildlife. “It was a lovely day.”
In 2014, Randy met his now husband, Walter. “It was such a surprise. I was 52 and wasn’t looking for love or a partner,” Randy said. “I was just living my life the way I wanted to. I was privileged to run into a really sweet guy.” They were married in May 2018.
Everything seemed to be going well, but in March of that year, Randy was called into a global meeting of the organization and informed that the organization had lost much of its funding due to a change in administration and was cutting the US-base funded positions. “It made perfect sense,” Randy said. The organization wanted to prioritize keeping the field offices open so many of the management and administrative positions were eliminated, Randy explained.
Although Randy had a spousal Visa, he did not have a work permit. “Like many places, you need a work permit to get a job, but you need a job to get a work permit.”
Randy tried for a year to get a job there. “I tried, but being 56, I needed a salary in US Dollars so I could contribute to my Social Security and 401K after a career as a social worker.”
He and Walter had the difficult conversation and concluded that Randy needed to go back to the United States at get a job. “I think that if we were much younger, it would have been really hard. But being at the finish line of work, it is time limited. I mean it’s still hard, but if it was open-ended, it would be even harder.” He returned to the U.S. in October 2019.
Walter needed to stay in South Africa to finish out his career. He had 26 years working for a bank and only a short time until he could retire. “Everyone retires at 60 there,” Randy said. Walter would work until 60 and then have a pension for the rest of his life.
So, in October 2018, Randy moved back to the U.S. He had been in Africa for over 11 years. “Everything I had here was in storage,” Randy said.
He moved back to Maine where he had friends and lived for 23 years before moving to Africa. “I applied for a job to work at the LL Bean call center during the Christmas season like every good Mainers does and I had done for two seasons in the past.” When not working, he volunteered at a local soup kitchen.
Luckily, by the end of December 2018, Randy was hired as the interim deputy director of a small, non-profit, supporting health systems in Haiti. “It was doing work that I love,” said Randy.
With his new job in place, Randy scheduled a quick trip to see Walter in South Africa. Then in February, he visited Cap-Haitien, Haiti for three-weeks to see first-hand how his work was affecting the residents of Haiti and to learn more about the organization.
“The organization I was working for was supporting local clinics and hospitals,” Randy said. His job was to help them get training and equipment so the residents could get quality health care. “It was lovely. The people were very friendly,” Randy said.
Then COVID hit and Randy wasn’t able to go back to South Africa to see Walter. “It was hell. Thank goodness for Facetime and WhatsApp, but it wasn’t what we had bargained for,” Randy said.
“It was pretty intense, but we were confident in us,” Randy said. He said he is grateful that he didn’t lose any family members to COVID. “In perspective, we were inconvenienced,” Randy said.
Randy enjoyed his job in Maine, but knew it was an interim job. He also felt he needed to move closer to his mother in Indiana.
“I knew my mother was failing and wouldn’t be able to live independently,” Randy said. He began looking for jobs in Indianapolis so he could support his mother and his sister, who had to bear most of the responsibility of taking care of his mother.
He got a job with the Marion County health department doing HIV work. “I’d run away from Indiana in 1984 and never looked back,” Randy said. However, moving back proved to be a good experience.
He enjoyed his time in Indiana and enjoyed reconnecting with friends. “I enjoyed the work and planned to stay there working the five-year plan until our retirement,” Randy said. “I met a lot of great people there.”
Then, one day, somebody “pinged” him and said he should look at a job in Washington D.C. The job was as the Director for HIV and Harm Reduction working with NACCHO, National Association of County and City Health Officials supporting over 3,000 health departments around the country. His job would be focused on making sure people living with HIV and those at risk received the health care they needed. The job also included securing health care for those with viral hepatitis.
“It’s clearly focused on health equity. It’s a little farther removed from what I was doing in Indiana,” Randy said. However, Randy knew that he wanted to apply and he got the job.
“It’s humbling to be this farm kid from Indiana sitting in meeting in Washington D.C. where major decisions are being made,” Randy said.
“I am able to speak to the needs of local health departments,” Randy said. “It’s good work.”
Securing Employment After 50
Although, Randy admits that there is age discrimination, he credits the ability to get jobs after 50 is how he presents himself.
“I talk about what I do know, but I am open to new leadership and new ideas,” Randy said. “I think that openness helps.”
Randy also said he likes to do informational interviews. “I have to pay my bills, so I address that whether it’s working at LL Bean or whatever, but I also talk to people and say, ‘This is the type of work I want to do. Who in your community is doing this type of work?”
Randy said he does information interviews even before he is looking for a job. “It’s just old social networking,” Randy said. He said he uses LinkedIn and his contacts to find out who he should be talking to. “I really appreciate LinkedIn. I’ve remained connected to a lot of the professionals I’ve worked with in Maine, Indiana, Haiti, South Africa and Botswana,” Randy said.
“It’s not passive. It’s about asking people to talk about their work,” Randy said. “Asking people for a half hour of their time.”
Using this technique, Randy got his job in Ethiopia. “In 2003, I liked my work, but I wanted to do something more. I knew I wanted to do international work,” he said.
“I was taking people to dinner and just doing informational interviewing,” Randy said. “I was saying, ‘This is the kind of work I want to do. What do you think?’”
“Lo and behold someone said, ‘I know someone doing that type of work.’” They connected Randy with someone and he did an informational interview. Even though there was nothing available at that time, the person said they would reach out to him when it was available. “They did and that’s how I ended up in Ethiopia.”
“I believe in that personal connection of meeting people,” Randy said.
Randy has even cold emailed people. He asked the person to talk to him about his organization. Randy said, “I know you don’t have any open positions, but that’s not what I am asking. I am asking for information about the organization. The person was so gracious and was happy to talk to me.” That email led to three other referrals and one eventually led to a job.
Early on in his career, Randy decided rather than look at the job title, he would look at the type of work the position was doing. “That has led me to lots of meaningful work experiences working with lots of wonderful people,” Randy said.
“I’m really grateful at 50 that I did something radically different and new. Living in Ethiopia in 2008 and learning Amharic and learning a different culture rejuvenated me,” Randy said.
“It opened up my world.”
Advice to Others
“People have to make choices and be pragmatic,” Randy said.
He said that many people are trapped because of health insurance. He said it would be great if Medicare age was lowered to 60 so people could explore other options including part-time work or volunteering.
“I really think it’s a shame we don’t institute a GAP year in our 40s,” Randy said. “You get into a track and it’s easy to keep doing the same thing. “It would be nice if people had a year to figure out what they want the rest of their work path to look like.”
He does encourage others to look for other jobs after 50 by finding out about companies they may want to work with and figuring out what makes them happy.
What the Future Holds
Randy is currently working on a five-year plan. In five years, Walter will be able to retire. “We agreed to look where I am financially and health-wise and where he is health-wise and we’ll make a decision,” Randy said.
He said he doesn’t really know what things will look like in five years. “We’ll decide where we are and discern our best decision then,” Randy said. He said he may decide to work another couple of years beyond that depending where he is with his career.
“Eventually, I will be moving home to South Africa,” Randy said.
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