Retirement. That golden time when you've earned the right to put your feet up, kick back and do nothing more than sit around if you so desire.
Or not. For Richard K. Marshall, the idea of kicking back and doing nothing is about as appealing as a wet noodle. "Some people just retire and don't know what to do with their time," said Mr. Marshall. So what did he do? At the age of 62, the former teacher, headmaster and businessman decided to go back to college.
hTC It took six years of study, research, writing and rewriting but Mr. Marshall finally received a Ph.D. in history from Johns Hopkins University last week.
His dissertation topic is the world of the small businessman in a small Italian town during the 14th century.
Mr. Marshall is a Baltimore native who graduated with an B.A. in the classics from Hopkins in 1947. Two years later, he received his M.A. in history. Then he settled into a professional life as an educator at various private schools before leaving teaching in 1974 to become regional manager for an insurance company.
By 1982, Mr. Marshall had his own insurance company. Four years later, he sold the business and became a college student.
"There was really no economic purpose for me to do this," he says while relaxing in his comfortable and sunny Rodgers Forge home. "It wasn't like, 'Gee. If I get this done, I might get a job.' "
He had another reason to head back to school. Perhaps the purest of reasons to seek an education. "There was . . . " he said pausing, reaching for the right words, "an intellectual interest."
Q: Where did you get the idea to go back to school?
A: I had read an article about a man who had gone back to college. He was in his 70s and he went to the University of Maryland at Baltimore County. I thought that was interesting. By that time I had had enough of this [insurance] business. So I called [a Hopkins professor] and talked about it. He said it sounded like a great idea.
Q: Was it difficult walking into the classroom that very first day?
A: No. Not really. It wasn't such a big thing. I had been in education. I had been a headmaster, so I wasn't completely on the outside.
Q: Then what has been the hardest thing about returning to school in your senior years?
A: I'll tell you what the hardest thing was. I hadn't been a student in hundreds of years! But it wasn't my memory. There's nothing wrong with my memory. It was not the research. That is the most enjoyable part. The most difficult thing for me was the writing. That was the hard part and it still is. How do you organize? How do you write a chapter? If you haven't done it for many, many years, it can be hard.
Q: How did the students accept you?
A: Of course, I was quite a bit older than them. I was an oddity at first but then it kind of wore off.
Q: What did you think of your fellow students?
A: No question they are brilliant. But -- and I realize this may not be fair -- I found students today not as broad or interested in other things as I seem to remember they were. They know their particular subject very well. But they don't seem to care about other things.
Q: What are the advantages of being an older student?
A: When you have done something else, instead of going straight on into graduate school at a steady stream, you look at things differently. I ran a business, so I could understand things a little more. Also, normally the professors are under pressure to help students find a job. That was not the case with me.
Q: Did you ever have any doubts?
A: At times, obviously, I thought, what's the purpose? But I have a friend who is retired and he doesn't know what to do. Something like going to the bank becomes important. He actually writes that down: "Go to the bank today."
Q: Once you decided to go for a Ph.D., how did you choose the topic "The World of the Little Businessman in Fourteenth-Century Prato"?
A: I had a bit of background as a businessman and we [he and his wife] had traveled in Italy. We love Italy. When I started my research, I didn't speak Italian. Well, just a few words. Now I can read Italian. But my wife speaks it and understands it far better than I do.
Q: You are done. Now what?
A: My professor has made some suggestions so I'm working on the process of getting this [dissertation] published. And I will probably go back to Prato. We like the place. We have many, many friends there. This research will go on forever. I have a little computer upstairs and I'm going to go make some revisions now.
Q: What you would like to tell young people about making it in this world?
A: To get where you want to go takes time and effort. Some think that they are just going to start out making a lot of money. That is usually not the case. Sometimes you have to start low. You have got to persevere.
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