Don’t Call It Retirement

Pete Sorenson Announced Jan. 9 that we'll have a new county commissioner in four years

Harriet Beecher Stowe said, “Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” I’ve always lived by that view. Today is no different.

And today is the sixth time I’ve been sworn in to a four year term as Lane County commissioner for the South Eugene District. I’ve also been sworn in twice as Oregon state senator and sworn in three times as Lane Community College board member. I’ve been privileged and honored to be called to public service.

But let’s face it: even by today’s low standards, that’s a lot of swearing.

Today, as with the other five times here at Harris Hall, this is an opportunity to thank the people of our district who’ve entered into a partnership with me: If I wanted to be the commissioner and they wanted me to be the commissioner, then it would be a good match.

Today is a day of celebration at the fact that the people of Lane County have elected several people, me included, to terms in elective office. In a sense, it’s a celebration of representative democracy, something that too many people take for granted. 

Today is the ceremonial first day of these terms of office. I’m fortunate to be elected and look forward with enthusiasm to serving the people of the South Eugene District for four more years.

Today, however, is a bit different for me: at the end of this term, I’ll have served 24 years as commissioner. That’s a long time: In 2014 the National Center for Health Statistics said the average American had a life expectancy of 78.8 years. So 24 years is 30 per cent of that average.  As my 95 year old mom knows, it’s a about a quarter of her life, and I hope a quarter of my life.

By the way, I wouldn’t be here without my Mom, Jean Sorenson. She’s the mother who helped to give me the support and give me the confidence to serve in public office. Please stand mom.

We all owe a lot to our families — the families that make a sacrifice for us to serve as elected officials. I have a whole slew of family members who’ve sacrificed. 

Another one is my wife, Kim Leval. Thanks and please stand, Kim!

By the way, I also wanted to thank my kids. They are taxpayers now and they are both South Eugene High School graduates, both college graduates, both married, both breadwinners, both homeowners and wonderful young adults. I know they aren’t here but I still want to thank them, for their sacrifices, too.

Does this sound like I’m retiring? Here’s what Nobel Prize winner Ernest Hemmingway said straight out: “Retirement is the ugliest word in the language.” He should know: he won his Nobel Prize for literature.

So, no, I’m not retiring. 

As George Burns said, “Retire? I’m going to stay in show business until I’m the only one left.” 

For a while, I think the other commissioners thought I’d try to stay here forever, but today is the day — not that I’m retiring — but the day I say I’m working hard for four more years as a commissioner and giving the progressive and practical viewpoint — and that today is the day that there will be another commissioner from the South Eugene District here in four years.

Anthropologist Margaret Mead said it best: “Sooner or later I’m going to die, but I’m not going to retire.”

So, no, I’m not going to retire but I won’t be a commissioner in four years. I’m moving on to a different adventure, maybe in public service, mostly likely law practice.

Someone else will be elected and will be entrusted with the responsibility and honor to serve the people of the South Eugene District.

Finally, I want to say that I enjoy my work as a commissioner. It’s not always easy, but I think it’s important to help people, help with the board’s work and help as a leader in this community. That’s what I do.

I live by simple ideals, recent expressed by First Lady Michelle Obama: Don’t be afraid. Be focused. Be determined. Be hopeful. Be empowered. Build a country — and for those of us here today I’ll add build a county — worthy of your boundless promise. Lead by example with hope, never fear.

Thanks for giving me this opportunity.

Remarks given by Lane County Commissioner Pete Sorenson Jan. 9 at the State of the County address