That's All folks

TV anchors and school chiefs aren't the only ones who need an exit strategy_everyone from athletes to politicians evenually will take a finalk bow, some more artfully than others

Making a graceful exit

June 22, 2006|By ROB HIAASEN | ROB HIAASEN,SUN REPORTER

First of all, think about the last impression we make.

Baltimore schools chief Bonnie S. Copeland, CBS mainstay Dan Rather, the guy next to you at work, you, me. Everybody will face the early, late, forced or voluntary "departure," the long goodbye, the last song, the final speech, the final episode - the last impression.

Everyone eventually must go - even Cher and the Rolling Stones.

So, why not look and sound like you're still on top even if you feel like you're at rock bottom? Don't we want to leave a good last impression?

"A lot of people don't think of it that way. They almost make a special effort to burn their bridges or to stay too long," says Lauren Solomon, a New York-based image and etiquette expert. "A last impression should be as lasting as the first impression."

We've been schooled on the importance of first impressions. Seminars and motivational speakers still talk about that initial 10-second window in which to make a good first impression with the opening smile, the firm handshake, the positive attitude. Consider, though, how practical making a last impression can be.

"Unless you're intending to move to the Antarctic, there's always a next act in your career and in your life. And for that reason, the last impression is almost as important as a first," says Kevin O'Keefe, a Baltimore communications consultant at Weber Shandwick.

For people planning retirement or an unplanned "departure," keep in mind last lines can also help create a good last impression. No one wants to be reduced to saying the line popularized by exiting politicians, business leaders and football coaches: "I want to spend more time with my family." Some of these folks end up going back to their jobs to avoid spending more time with their families. (It can be a vicious circle.)

We haven't really heard yet from Copeland. In a prepared statement, school officials said she and the school board had reached a "mutual decision" - which can be a diplomatic way of saying the feeling wasn't necessarily mutual. Either way, leaving is tough. "She handled that with total grace and dignity, at least publicly. You have to admire her for that," O'Keefe says.

Still, the schools chief needs an exit line!

Copeland did twist a Twainism and tell WJZ-TV only last week that "rumors of my demise are greatly overrated." Rumors of my death, Twain famously said, have been greatly exaggerated. Overrated, exaggerated, whatever. To be fair, no one can be expected to come even close to dying New York Yankee Lou Gehrig's famous 1939 exit line: "Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth." Even "Win one for the Gipper" is a good closer.

When she leaves her post July 1, maybe Copeland could sign off with that. Or, in the spirit of the NBA Finals, "Win another one for Dwyane Wade!"

Now that would make a last impression.

Sun reporter Dan Thanh Dang contributed to this article.

rob.hiaasen@baltsun.com

dan.thanh.dang@baltsun.com

POLITICIANS

The political season in Maryland is providing a rich vein of examples on how or when to leave office:

Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. announces in May he will not seek re-election to a sixth term: "I'd rather have people say, 'Hey Joe, why did you leave so early?' I'd rather have them say that than, 'Why are you staying around so long?'"

Classy. Comptroller William Donald Schaefer. The longtime - some would say too longtime -politico, who filed yesterday for re-election, at least got off a good quip on the 74-year-old Curran: "But for the life of me, I can't understand why such a young man would want to call it quits this early in his career."

SPORTS

God bless those athletes with glorious exit strategies: Ted Williams (hits home run in final at-bat), Rocky Marciano (retires undefeated), Jim Brown (then-NFL rushing leader retires after nine near-perfect seasons), Brooks Robinson and that other famous Oriole, Cal Ripken Jr.

Many more athletes, however, left us with sad or even horrifying last impressions:

Rafael "Liar, Liar, Orioles jersey on fire" Palmeiro, wagging that finger at Congress

Johnny Unitas in a San Diego Chargers uniform

Michael Jordan. The former Chicago Bulls great-turned-baseball flop played his final two years with the Washington Wizards. Just not right.

TV SHOWS

Long-running television sitcoms can struggle with graceful and timely exits - from M*A*S*H to Will & Grace this season.

The Mary Tyler Moore show ended after seven seasons with a classic finale. Everyone is fired but Ted Baxter, and the gang bows out with a tearful, funny group hug.

Seinfeld ended its M-5nine-year run with a final episode featuring the gang jailed for breaking a "Good Samaritan Law." Were they always such cruel and self-absorbed characters? Thank God for reruns.

BUSINESS WORLD

It doesn't always pay to be the smartest guys in the room.

Former Disney Chairman and CEO Michael Eisner. After 20 years of ego run amok at the Magic Kingdom, Eisner was finally pushed out through a shareholder revolt led by Walt's nephew himself, Roy Disney. Eisner was last seen riding Humiliation Mountain.

Former Enron Chairman Ken Lay: found guilty of fraud. His partner, Jeff Skilling: found guilty of insider trading. Lasting impression? See 2005 documentary: Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.

Sun reporter Dan Thanh Dang contributed to this article.

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