Act III: Hunter Moorman

Retirement is too important to spend in your slippers and a bathrobe.

Hunter Moorman at home in West Tisbury. —Photo by Sam Moore

The Island’s first baby boomers turn 70 this year. Our 65-plus population is growing far faster here on the Island than in the of the rest of the U.S., and by 2030, they will represent nearly a third of our population. So who are these folks, and what do they mean to the Vineyard? Over the coming year we’ll be taking a closer look at people who are in “Act Three” of their lives, and as you’ll see, they’re far from a monolithic group.

Hunter Moorman and his wife Leslie live out on the panhandle in West Tisbury, just past the Agricultural Hall in a house overlooking Whiting Farm that they built in the early ’90s. There’s a sense of order, a sense of style, and a feeling of serenity that emanates from their home; one might say the same about Hunter.

Hunter is a thoughtful, affable and engaging man whose youthful looks and demeanor belie his 73 years. The word “unflappable” comes to mind, which is perhaps a quality he cultivated during a career navigating the cross-currents of working in the federal government. But don’t expect a dry bureaucrat: Hunter’s interests are wildly varied, and his conversations are often punctuated with hearty laughter.

Hunter grew up as an Army brat, frequently moving around the world and living in places like Taiwan, Japan, and Canada. Although a product of a loving family, he lacked roots until the eighth grade, when he was enrolled at Middlesex Academy; the school would become his surrogate family and the closest thing he had to a stable home in his youth.

After Middlesex, Hunter was off to college, and upon graduation from Harvard, he became an officer in the Army and was stationed in Germany for 2½ years. Following his discharge in 1970, he went on to work for the federal government, managing research and development programs for improving primary and secondary education as part of the Great Society programs.

“I was influenced by JFK’s presidency during my college years, and saw in my career the good side of big government and bureaucracy, and the good it could do for society,” Hunter said in a recent interview. After 30 years, Hunter retired from the government, but went on to work on school reform issues for nonprofits for several years; in 2009 he officially retired. But his retirement was not everything it was built up to be.

“I had a period of time where I could walk around in my bathrobe, read, or try my hand at poetry,” recalled Hunter, “and I enjoyed an aspect of freedom, but there were things I was not happy about, namely a lack of a sense of direction and a lack of community.”

At this point Hunter and Leslie were living outside Washington, D.C., but spending vacation time in their Vineyard home and traveling around the world. While he was on the Vineyard, Hunter heard of an opportunity that would prove to be a turning point in his life.

“People started telling me about this fundraising that was going on to build a new West Tisbury library,” said Hunter. “They were looking for help, and It seemed like a splendid opportunity to make new friends, get involved in the community, and allow me to utilize some of the abilities I’ve developed over the years.”

It was also a bit terrifying. Hunter didn’t know that many people on the Island; he had never done any fundraising — he was clearly out of his comfort zone. But it was also just what he needed, and he became chairman of the West Tisbury Library Foundation, which went on to successfully spearhead the drive to build the new library.

About four years ago, Hunter and Leslie moved to the Vineyard full-time, his days of lounging around in his bathrobe well behind him. When asked what retirement was like for him, Hunter replied, “It’s a lot of work.”

Hunter currently serves on the board of four nonprofit organizations, which not only can be work-intensive, it can also involve a fair amount of travel. He also tries to get in a good workout most every day.

“I feel very strong and healthy,” says Hunter, “but I had heart surgery and I had prostate cancer four years ago, so I spend a lot of time at the health club and I’ll occasionally do yoga — I find it very satisfying.”

Hunter has good genes going in his favor. His father just turned 100, and his mother lived until 93. “I look forward to a long life,” says Hunter. But he is also realistic.

“I’m a step slower,” he says, “but I don’t mind it. In my mind’s eye I can still wind up with the puck and sail down the ice, or jam in the moguls, and in reality I can hardly even run anymore! Somehow that’s OK.”

Growing old

Hunter Moorman on change

“One of nice things about getting older is I can be more open to things than in the past.

For the better part of my life, I wanted things to be routine and predictable, but as I get older, I like to be more spontaneous, less predictable — I think it represents confidence.”

On hitting the 70s

“When you hit your 70s, it’s not like you’re an old dishrag to be cast aside. You have a lifetime of abilities, skills, and interests, and they don’t go away.”

On what’s important

“I find satisfaction in smaller things … an evening by the fire with my wife … a walk to Waskosim’s Rock. As I get older I lose the thrill of the chase; it’s more important to savor things in the moment.”

On books

“I read books differently now; I read more carefully, more discriminately … I often understand things now that I wasn’t able to get before.”

On loss

“Scott Peck wrote that you should accept loss — loss of youth, loss of sexual potency, loss of friends — as an inevitable part of life, and the ultimate loss is death. On the other hand you have Dylan Thomas: ‘Don’t go gently into that good night!’ So which do you do?

On gain

“This is the richest stage of my life by far. You gain a sense of confidence, mastery, a sense of self, an understanding and appreciation of the world around you. Things make sense in a way that’s better than before.”

On good and bad

“I inherited a strong sense of right and wrong from my parents — for better or worse I was a good boy. Over time I learned that many of the principles may have been correct, but for the wrong reasons. Now I have developed my own sense of what it means to be good, ethical, and moral, and how I want to express that morality.”

On hobbies

“I’m interested in foreign languages: German, French, Spanish, a little Italian. I listen to foreign radio streaming, and work to keep some facility. It’s good for the mind.”

On experience and wisdom

“As you age, you have something no one else can have until they get to where you are.

Until you’ve got a certain amount of living done, you simply can’t appreciate what it’s like to stand where we stand and see the past and to see the future as we can see it. That’s a lot of what wisdom consists of.”

On Vineyard friendships

“Here on the Island, you can develop friendships with different people of different ages, it’s not like you’re just marching in lockstep with a group of septuagenarians.”

On time

“The days are way too short! It seems I got a lot more done when I worked for a living. Now as much as I may sit at the computer or run errands, or whatever it is, I end up each day wondering where it went, how it could have passed by so quickly. There are loads of things I want to do: exercise, hobbies, reading, attending to various nonprofit boards, chatting with my wife, cleaning out and organizing the basement, and there’s just not enough time for it all.”