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Opinion >  Column

Paul Turner: Will the office change when the last baby boomer retires?

An email arrived with this is in the subject line: “NEWS FLASH: Another baby boomer retires!”

It reported that Madonna Luers is calling it a day after 34 years as the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Eastern Washington public information officer.

“Madonna is taking a hike!” read the headline on an attachment.

She will be missed. Madonna has helped virtually everyone working in Spokane news media over the years. She has assisted some of us many, many times, whether the subject was marmots, moose or downtown sparrows.

She has become something of a Spokane institution.

I’m quite certain her departure will be noted more extensively as her last day at work draws near. But I’d like to return, if I may, to that subject line message.

“Another baby boomer retires.”

What’s it going to be like in Spokane-area workplaces when the last baby boomer has walked out the door?

Quieter? Fewer overheated conversations about ’60s albums or Slinky toys?

Oh, sure. Many will not miss us. After all, we baby boomers have been a tad self-involved and apt to view ourselves as being at the center of American life over the years. Well, decades.

Eventually that gets on people’s nerves.

We weren’t the Greatest Generation, just arguably the most grating.

But if we can put aside any weariness with my aging population cohort, I have a few questions.

What’s it going to be like working in an office without anyone who remembers watching the Beatles on “Ed Sullivan”?

Or what will it be like when not one of your co-workers can answer “Beverly Hillbillies” trivia questions or list Sen. George McGovern’s various running mates?

What will it be like when any and all office baseball conversations are not met by a pointed throat-clearing from the gray-haired guy in the corner who remembers Sandy Koufax?

I could go on. (And believe me, I will.)

But it’s worth noting that baby boomers really aren’t all alike.

For one thing, those born between 1946 and 1964 saw American life from many different angles. I mean, that’s quite an age range.

Vietnam, Watergate, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the space race and the civil rights movement didn’t look the same from every vantage.

The youngest boomers won’t be stumbling out the workplace door for a few more years yet.

Still, it’s only a matter of time before certain key questions are met with silence in Spokane businesses.

“Who were Rob Petrie and Samantha Stephens?”

“Does anyone know if Tiny Tim, Twiggy and Wavy Gravy were real people?”

But I suppose that’s what the infallible internet is for. I mean besides cats, porn and hate groups.

Now not all boomers were obsessed with pop culture fluff. It doesn’t define us. Just as not all our parents were heroes who saved the world. And not all members of younger generations are, well, whatever it is they’re known for. Going to day care? Awful music?

I’m just saying workplaces won’t be the same without (insert the title of a certain song by The Who).

Shocking though it might be to youths in the workforce, some boomers actually know a few things. An old saying comes to mind: “She’s forgotten more than you’ll ever know.”

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting boomers are inherently superior to those who came after them.

Some of the technological advances shepherded into ubiquity by the children and grandchildren of baby boomers are, frankly, pretty far out.

And as far as having older men and women in the workplace, there are two schools of thought. Some younger people like having them around. The value of institutional memory and all that.

Others wish workplace codgers would hurry up and head on out to pasture and free up some positions and salary. That’s understandable.

Baby boomers used to be young. Some of us remember waiting for our turn to run things.

It’s hard to be patient when you have all the answers.

Game heats up

Here’s a game you can play at home.

When people start complaining about uncomfortably hot weather in Spokane, what city, state, region or country do you nominate as reliably worse?

A) Houston. B) New Orleans. C) The Midwest. D) Vietnam. E) Mississippi. F) Phoenix. G) El Paso. H) Louisville. I) Inland Empire (California version). J) Memphis. K) Baltimore. L) Georgia. M) Arkansas. N) Disneyland. O) Other.

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