Kay Grinnell

Living It Up

Now here is a woman who's got it made. Retired early with youth, health and resources to spare, Kay Grinnell wakes up every day with the clear objective of doing precisely what she wants. Whether en route to a far-flung destination or taking a group of local school kids for a nature walk on Pinckney Island, Kay is loving life.

"I feel like I've died and gone to heaven," said Kay, a former partner with Deloitte Consulting. Though she doesn't like to say it directly, Kay alludes to the fact that her career was very lucrative; she worked constantly and saved her money for a day when she could quit on her own terms.

"I put in 40 years, I just did it in twenty," she said. "And I loved it-it was fascinating and intellectually challenging-but now I guess I'm happy in a different way. It's the work/life balance with a new spin, and I'm loving the life part."

When it came time to take that leap of faith into the post-job abyss, she knew conceptually that there were things she loved: nature, travel, volunteer work, fine food and wine. But beyond that, Kay had no idea how she was going to spend her days. By putting herself in situations where she's forced to take a backseat to people with far more experience, she's found the path of the lifelong learner.

"It's such an interesting experience for me to go from having a big, powerful businesswoman job, meeting with executive boards and CEOs, to now sometimes I can barely give my time away," she laughs. "I just interviewed for a volunteer position with the New England Aquarium and they said, 'We'll let you know.'"

Besides local volunteer activities, such as water quality testing for the DNR's Oyster Restoration Project and leading educational nature walks on the beach and through the marsh, Kay makes a point to try and help out wherever she goes. For example, on a recent month-long sojourn in North Vietnam, where she stayed at a tribal chieftain's hut and hiked through the mountains with women from the Red Dao ethnic group, Kay distributed packets of sewing needles in rural villages because she had been told they were badly needed. "The only way I could ever volunteer before was by writing a check," said Kay. "Now I get to be involved personally, and that's actually a more rewarding thing to do."

Kay has traveled all over the world (a solitary bike tour through French wine country; Kearny, Nebraska to see migrating sandhill cranes; Paris, Vienna, Barcelona and Lisbon, where the seafood and port-tasting was excellent; two weeks of kayaking and whitewater rafting down the Palena river in Patagonia, where she camped among the free-range livestock of Chilean ranchers-just to name a few recent destinations.) The only place she's ever felt the need to go twice was South Africa, after becoming enraptured by the animals and fine wines, not to mention Nelson Mandela, whom she met personally. Even as you read this, Kay is probably returning from her latest adventure: hiking and kayaking in the Galapagos Islands, followed by a visit to an environmental preserve in the Ecuadorian mountains.

"You can have a great retirement if you stay open to having adventures and learning new things," concluded Kay. "I figured out I needed to set my ego aside, and when I did that, I found that learning is exhilarating."