Retired subway operator Irvine McConney sits on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle...

Retired subway operator Irvine McConney sits on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle outside his North Babylon home. Credit: James Carbone

Irvine McConney, a retired train operator for the New York City subway system, once relished his job.

“I had enjoyed moving the train, being an expert at it and getting praise from passengers for it,” said McConney, 67, of North Babylon.

But, five years before retiring in 2018, the 22-year veteran of the transit system experienced three instances of an unauthorized person on the tracks while he operated the train. After each incident, McConney was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and got therapy. Although nobody died in the first two incidents, he only took the allotted year off for them. But after the final accident, which resulted in the death of an intoxicated woman who had fallen in front of the subway that McConney was operating, he opted to return to work after just three months. Intent on growing his pension as much as he could before retiring, he clocked as many as 13 hours a day, six days a week.

“Through the union, I was offered to stay another year for an extra $800 a month in my pension payment if I had continued at that hardworking pace, but it wasn’t worth it to me,” McConney said. “I had paid my dues.”

Using his accumulated vacation and personal days, McConney stopped working 1½ months before his “official last day,” Jan. 1, 2018.

“Even to this day, just talking about the incidents brings back a lot of memories and bad feelings,” McConney said.

Married to Madeline Quintyne-McConney, the Town of Babylon’s former commissioner of Human Services and now its diversity, equity and inclusion officer, he has three adult children and eight grandchildren.

Along with spending time with his family, McConney, who owns two Harley-Davidson motorcycles, has used his retirement to indulge his passion for riding, including traveling as far west as Minnesota.

Timing is everything

After years of devoting much of their waking hours to earning a living, many older Long Islanders stand at the threshold of the next milestone in their lives: retirement. While some know exactly when and why they are going to retire, others grapple with uncertainty about the optimum time.

Generally, health issues and financial resources play pivotal roles in dictating whether to leave the workforce as planned, or earlier or later than anticipated. Pastimes, grandchildren and bucket lists also weigh heavily.

“People want the things they dreamed about that they haven’t had the time to do. There’s a sense that time is running out,” said Phyllis Diamond, a licensed clinical social worker with a Manhattan practice called Strategic Retirement Coaching. “In our current economy, people are working 24/7, so the idea of not being tied to that is a reason to leave.”

Feelings of being undervalued or marginalized, as in getting bypassed for plum assignments, can also drive older adults to throw in the towel.

“Part of the benefit of work is to feel valued, and to not have that status can affect your attitude and could be depressing,” Diamond said. “So, you want to leave when self-esteem is at its height, rather than staying on too long, and your contributions aren’t as appreciated as they once were.”

Sal Ferro, CEO of Alure Home Improvements in East Meadow, said he can spot retirement readiness in longtime, historically dedicated employees. Their commitment to advancing the company’s goals has been “replaced by a lack of engagement,” he said. “Passion for being involved dissipates.”

Other clues include a change in their topics of conversation. Instead of talking about work and sports, “they can’t wait to meet their grandkids on a regular basis,” Ferro said, “and someone buying a place in North Carolina is telling you they’re leaving soon.”

In November, Ferro, 58, sold Alure to Audax Private Equity as part of his own long-range retirement plans, as well as his desire to secure the time and flexibility “to serve as an elected public servant.” Last year, Ferro won a seat on the Huntington Town Board.

Although he has no plans to leave the business anytime soon, the sale, Ferro said, “is an important part of my exit strategy — to perpetuate the business,” ensure “employees have jobs” and “monetize the business to have security for the future.”

Ellen Schild Hochman, a retired New York City teacher, relaxes...

Ellen Schild Hochman, a retired New York City teacher, relaxes at Theodore Roosevelt Park in Oyster Bay. After retirement, Schild Hochman calls the park her happy place. Credit: Danielle Silverman

Do the math

And with finances weighing heavily in decisions to retire, “the general rule of thumb” for a comfortable retirement is to aim for 75% to 80% of preretirement income, including Social Security, pensions, withdrawals from an investment portfolio and other sources, according to David John, senior policy adviser at the AARP Public Policy Institute.

During retirement, he suggested using guaranteed income streams, such as Social Security and pensions, to cover necessities, such as food, housing, medical and transportation, and retirement investments to pay for “semi-necessities — not what you absolutely must have but you find important,” such as traveling to visit grandkids. Remaining income, John advised, can go toward “luxuries, like eating out and going to a show.”

But healthy savings do not prevent some retirees from experiencing financial insecurity. Such individuals, John said, are pained to dip into their reserves, fearing unanticipated expenses — at any moment — that they will struggle to cover.

“For some, the pot isn’t big enough to spend,” said John, who advises near-retirees to consult a professional financial adviser who doesn’t have an interest in any particular investment vehicle.

For 25 years, Ellen Schild Hochman knew exactly when she would retire — in 2017. And she expected to live comfortably.

Back in 1992, as a full-time classroom teacher in the New York City public school system, Hochman had enrolled in a program that enabled many city employees to retire — with full benefits, including medical and an inflation-
adjusted pension — at age 55, provided they had worked 25 years or more for a city government unit participating in the retirement plan, such as the schools.

Although Hochman, now 60, loved teaching, she was gratified to call it quits from the Astoria, Queens, elementary school where she worked as soon as she hit age 55.

It was the right time in her life, she said.

Much to her chagrin, Hochman, had been assigned to a kindergarten class in her last year — after teaching third- and fourth-graders throughout much of her career.

The Jericho resident also had grown weary of the twice-daily, 1½-hour, bumper-to-bumper commute. Through the years, she not only faced airport and rush-hour traffic, but road construction detours and traffic jams that meant leaving home at 5:45 a.m. and returning at 4:30 p.m. Other times, snowstorms added to her travel woes.

“It was a nightmare,” said Hochman, who had been living in Forest Hills when she started teaching. But, in moving to Long Island, Hochman, married and the mother of two sons, had reconciled herself to commuting from Jericho because “it wasn’t going to be forever and it was good for my family.”

Neil Watson, who will soon be retiring from his role...

Neil Watson, who will soon be retiring from his role as Long Island Museum’s executive director, stands in front of the "Montauk Sun & Moon" sculpture by Hans Van de Bovenkamp. Credit: Kristin Cuomo

‘I am done’

Above all, said Hochman, her retirement was a matter of wanting to have the “flexibility of being available” to her ailing mother, who died in November, and her husband, who has health issues.

As Hochman tells it, she has no current interest in substitute teaching, tutoring or consulting.

“I am done,” said Hochman, who uses her free time to do what she loves, including relaxing at her “happy places” — the beach at Theodore Roosevelt Park in Oyster Bay and at the upstate White Lake home that her parents purchased a half-century ago.

“When it’s time to retire, you feel it within your body and just know,” she said. “If you have to ask yourself if you’re ready, then you’re not.”

When Neil Watson, now 69, joined the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook in 2013, he didn’t consider the institution as a steppingstone to anywhere else.

And in a career that has spanned more than two decades in the museum world, including nine years as LIM’s current executive director, Watson will leave the Smithsonian affiliate in October. His retirement will end “the most fulfilling part” of his career, he said. “It’s been a phenomenal journey.”

Although Watson never experienced an “aha moment” to retire, “timing is everything, and I felt strongly that it was the right time to do this,” he said.

Among factors behind his readiness, Watson said, is a capital project that his successors “could put their stamp on.” Still in the development stage, the plan involves subtly contouring and landscaping a hill leading up to the Art Museum to create an
amphitheater where concertgoers can sit on blankets and movable chairs, according to Watson.

In planning for his exit, Watson said he wanted to secure the museum’s continuity with its strong leadership team, LIM’s current deputy directors, Sarah Abruzzi and Joshua Ruff, succeeding him as co-executive directors.

“A succession plan was the most important thing,” he said.

In his post-working life, Watson, who is married to novelist Judy Blundell and has a daughter in college, anticipates revisiting Paris, London and Italy with his wife; continuing their daily walks together; pursuing his passion for cooking and reading; and returning to his early creative roots, painting.

And while “museums will continue to be a big part of my life,” Watson said, he will bring a different set of eyes to them. Upon seeing donor boards, he will no longer focus on how the museums attracted their contributors, he said.

Sitting on the fence?

Scenarios abound that can help to identify retirement readiness, according to Phyllis Diamond, a licensed clinical social worker with a Manhattan practice called Strategic Retirement Coaching. Based on Diamond’s expertise, here are situations that can drive or delay an older adult’s retirement:

Retirement drivers

Believing that post-employment finances will support a comfortable retirement

Enjoying hobbies, volunteering

Feeling out of place among younger colleagues

Feeling time is running out to experience bucket-list items

Tiring of the commute

Hearing retired peers extol the joys of retirement

Lacking the motivation to keep pace with technology

Realizing you have gone as far as you can in the workforce and taking pride in your professional accomplishments

No longer feeling valued at work or experiencing job satisfaction

Regretting not attending matinees with retired spouse

Seeking a more balanced life

Suffering with physical aches, including back pain, joint issues and arthritic conditions exacerbated by working

Wanting to travel to visit grandchildren

Wishing to spend more time at a second home

Retirement delayers

Lacking sufficient finances for a comfortable retirement

Wanting to accomplish more professionally

Having no hobbies or interest in volunteering

Regarding retirement as overwhelming, with a lot of empty hours to fill