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Fresh From the Eastern Shore: A Leader Buoyed Up by Volunteering

Meet W. Lee Hammond, AARP’s new president

• New president W. Lee Hammond urges retirees to volunteer.
• Salisbury resident was AARP Maryland president.
• For past two years, Hammond has chaired the AARP National Policy Council.

W. Lee Hammond, AARP’s new president, will use the organization’s platform to preach what he has practiced in his home state of Maryland for two decades: Retirement is no time to take it easy.

Hammond, 71, who retired in 1990 after 30 years as a teacher, vice principal and principal in Wicomico County schools, said he will spend a large part of his two-year presidential tenure focusing on the AARP Foundation and AARP’s products and services.

But his pet project will be urging the nation’s surging population of retirees to remain active well after they stop working full time. It’s a reflection of his efforts as a volunteer with groups that aided Maryland’s teachers, older and rural residents as well as people with disabilities.

“If you talk to people about volunteering, a lot of them will say, ‘Well, I don’t do that,’ ” Hammond said.

“But if you asked them when was the last time you helped somebody, that’s a different story. They can relate to that. And that’s all volunteerism. If you’re helping someone, you’re a volunteer.”

The biggest change Hammond has seen over his 20 years in “retirement” is in the perception of older people and their expectations for retirement as the earliest boomers turn 65 next year.

“The big perception of aging is the fragile elderly. That’s not the case anymore,” Hammond said. “A large group of the aging population certainly are very active, very fit and able to give back to their communities. People are becoming more involved, more active and generally feeling better about themselves.”

As president of what is now the Maryland Retired School Personnel Association, Hammond helped to create scholarships for working teachers who needed to complete their state certification.

During his tenure as AARP Maryland president, he served on a state attorney general’s task force that targeted Medicare fraud. He also lobbied the Maryland General Assembly and Congress on a range of consumer issues, from eliminating telemarketing calls to older adults to police crackdowns on those who commit financial fraud against older people.

In 2002, Hammond was elected to AARP’s national board and, for the past two years, has chaired its National Policy Council.

Born and raised in Catonsville, Hammond graduated from what was then Towson State Teachers College in 1960—“I’ve pretty much always wanted to teach”—and moved to the Eastern Shore, where his wife, Elaine, also a teacher, grew up. The couple, set to mark their 50th wedding anniversary in June, settled in Salisbury, where they raised a son and daughter and where Hammond taught for five years before becoming a school administrator. He received his Master of Education degree from what was then Salisbury State College in 1968.

Friends in Maryland describe him as the go-to guy they could always rely on, whether organizing a meeting or providing detailed analysis of health care reform. None were surprised that he rose to AARP’s top volunteer job.

“We trained him and then he went to AARP,” joked Judith Zahren, executive director of the Maryland Retired School Personnel Association. “Lee’s always been involved in a lot of different organizations.”

Said Howard Hall of Annapolis, a longtime friend: “He really is someone who has always given many, many hours to others. Lee is not a ‘no’ person. If you need some assistance or help, he’s always willing to do it.”

Bob Kemper is a freelance reporter based in Washington, D.C.

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