Thursday, May 9, 2013

Leading the Way: Judy and Paul Farber

Keep opening doors. That’s what I vowed to do when I left my job more than a year ago. Don’t get stuck. Don’t get in a rut. And this week, once again, the small effort it took to detour from the usual path of my day made all the difference.
That's how I met Paul and Judy Farber, a remarkable couple who never skipped a beat after leaving their careers. The Farbers found their new paths in much the way I found them, on a guided Art Museum walk along Boathouse Row.
Park House guides Judy and Paul Farber, forever learning

We all started out as strangers the other day, a large group of about 20 people, quickly split into two. Paul, a soft-spoken man with a pleasant, round face, led my contingent down the slope behind the Philadelphia Museum of Art, past the geometric garden designed by Sol LeWitt and the statues of six Revolutionary War heroes, only one of whom was born on American soil. (Already I was learning something). Paul knows his stuff. The neoclassical Water Works, he explained, was built in 1811, “to provide water to the citizenry – the first city to do this.” The pumps were initially powered by steam engines. “That didn’t work out because steam engines required wood and it was too expensive to run. They solved the problem by putting a dam across the Schuylkill River in 1821, at the time the biggest and longest dam in the United States, 1200 feet. It was also a haven for tourists, the second most popular spot after Niagara Falls,” Paul said.
Dodging bikers, we studied the city’s iconic Victorian boathouses, built after 1860 to replace the “ramshackle affairs” that housed the early sculls.
Soon a member of my group, history buff and rower Clifford Pearlman, pulled out his key to let us into the University Barge Club, where he showed off their 19th century wooden “lady boat,” the Marguerite. With a two-person bench in the back, it was used to row women to social facilities owned by the clubs upriver.
Dating from the 1800s

By the time we reached the statue of the first Viking to land in America, (who turns out to be Thorfinn Karlsefni not Leif Erickson, as many think), we’d become a congenial group. Boundaries had been crossed, doors opened. Finally, we met up with the other half of our tour, who had wondered what had delayed us. Only then did I learn that Paul’s wife, Judy, was their leader.
So how did Paul Farber, DDS, PhD, who taught pathology to medical and dental students at Temple University, and Judy Farber, once supervisor of speech and hearing for the Philadelphia School District, come to be Park House guides?
“We went on a Water Works tour. We had never done that and we’d come to Philadelphia in 1969. We both loved it,” said the chatty, ebulient Judy, who is the same age as her husband, 75.
“We were talking to the guide and we said, ‘How do you get to do this?’ They were starting a new class. We applied, were interviewed and started the training program. It took a year and a half of going to classes one day a week from 10 to 3. We were checked out for various tours and became guides.”
The training doesn’t end there. “There are continuing education classes and trips to historic sites,” Judy said. “We are reevaluated every two years. Paul was just evaluated, and I was reevaluated a few months ago.”
They’re not paid except in the satisfaction and stimulation that they get. “I love it,” said Judy. We both say this is for us. I don’t consider this good works. I love the stories, the people stories. We learn so much.”
Their transition, Paul explained, began with their decision to move from the suburbs into the city.
“That was a big step,” Paul said. And then counseled:
“Don’t let it go too long because it’s a physically demanding thing to move. It’s also a liberating thing. You have to take stock of yourself.”
And downsizing to two bedrooms was a gift to their children. “Otherwise you’ll leave the job to your heirs. We left our kids a good legacy.”


Wendy Lee Forman said...

Thanks so much for introducing us to Judy and Paul and to the wonderful world of their retirement. What satisfying and inspired work they are doing and so much fun too!!!! (And I learned a lot just from your post) As usual, very inspirational blogpost...

Dotty Brown said...

Marian Ferguson sent me this email about being a docent
"Yes, I have plugged myself I to being a docent at the Boston Athenaeum, a library and art museum started in 1804 whose story has been one of adapting to space needs and technology. Now has about 7,000 members and seeks more. It's a great way to meet like-minded people. A lot of the people I tour are visitors to the city, but many are local. And I met great people in our training program."