They say that “people who need people are the luckiest people in the world.” If you’d like an example, look no further than retiree John Walek. John is the president of the retiree-organized Warner Lambert-Pfizer retiree group – a position he’s held for the last 23 years!
John joined Warner Lambert as a mechanic in the corporate office maintenance building in 1957, the year after the company moved its corporate headquarters to Morris Plains, N.J. He worked his way up from maintenance mechanic, becoming a supervisor and eventually a facilities manager, which is a position he held for many years. In 1986 he retired as the head facilities manager for corporate headquarters following nearly 30 years of loyal service.
In his positions, John was responsible for the maintenance of corporate headquarters. The job was complex, but rewarding, he explains. “I was tasked with taking care of everything at headquarters – from the grounds to air conditioning and heating, cleaning responsibilities, maintaining the Helipad and chauffeur areas, and the garages. At one time I was in charge of security at headquarters, until a separate division was created for that. I truly was charged with just about everything! I was even responsible for snow removal. I was the one who went out at 2 a.m. on snowy days to advise the executives whether we should open or close or have a late opening.”
John admits that getting out of his warm bed during heavy snow storms was never easy, but it was all part of the job and he was happy to be able to do it. “I kept that place running!” he says with a laugh, adding, “In all seriousness, I had some dirty jobs to do, but someone had to do them and the work was important. My colleagues and I had a role in ensuring the comfort, and in some ways the health and safety, of all employees. It was nice to be appreciated for that.”
At the end of the day, the employees – the people John passed in the halls every day and the people he worked side-by-side with – are the ones who made all his years at Warner Lambert enjoyable. “It was most rewarding for me just to be surrounded by all those wonderful people,” he said.
Perhaps this is why when he retired in 1986, John decided to attend a retiree group meeting. “I remember that first meeting. At the time, the group was two years old and it was being run by a good friend of mine named Mike Gold. The meeting was very poorly attended – there were maybe 12 or 15 people. After attending my second meeting I jokingly said to my friend, ‘Hey, Mike, you’re doing something wrong!’ and Mike just looked at me and said in his very deep and distinguished voice, ‘Well John, what would you do?’ So I shared my idea of getting a list of retirees from personnel and doing a mailing to raise awareness of the group meetings. Mike told me to go for it, and much to our surprise personnel was very supportive and helpful… they provided us with all the information we needed. We did a mailing with a return postcard and little by little more people started to come to the meetings.”
That year, John took over as president of the Warner Lambert-Pfizer retiree group and he hasn’t slowed down since. “For 23 years now I’ve been the President of the group… I also serve as treasurer/secretary. I get together with the travel agents, I go to the printer to get the mailings together, and then I actually do the mailing. I guess you could say I’m doing it all, again! But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love leading the group and spending time with my retiree friends.”
The Warner Lambert-Pfizer retiree group currently has 250 members and meets on the second Wednesday of every month (except for two months in the winter) at the VFW on Route 53 in Morris Plains. During their meetings, the group takes time to socialize but also discusses important issues relevant to them as retirees. The group often participates in company-lead letter writing campaigns to local government officials. “We may be retired, but we’re still rather involved in current affairs,” comments John. “And, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the 10 member advisory board that meets before each meeting. They are the cornerstone of our group and they keep us going.”
In addition to staying active with the company and within the local community, the group spends a lot of time traveling. They take monthly bus trips, two short (3 or 4 days) trips, and two longer trips or cruises a year. “Some of our upcoming day trips include the UN later in June, Monmouth Race Track in July and a luncheon at Lake Wallenpaupack in August. A large group just returned from an overseas trip to Scandinavia and Russia,” said John. “One of our most memorable foreign trips was to Ireland… there were 84 of us on that trip! We had to take two separate tour buses and go to different places and then cross-over in the afternoon. All of the historic places we were touring were so old – and relatively small – that they couldn’t accommodate a group our size!”
When John isn’t working on club activities, he enjoys bowling with friends and spending time with his family, most especially his wife and grandchildren. But the Warner Lambert-Pfizer retiree group clearly holds a special place in his heart. When asked why it’s important for retirees to remain connected, John simply replies, “You spend a large part of your life working at a particular job and you develop a bond with those people. You just have to pay your respects to your fellow employees! And what better way to do that then to live life to its fullest?”
We couldn’t agree more.