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Merrilee and I spent the weekend with two old friends, one retired, the other about to retire.

It's always a delicate balancing act when you let go of your lifelong business career and embark on a new way of life. Stay too involved with your old company and you may become angry and frustrated that your former work mates don't listen to you as closely as they once did. Break your ties too abruptly and you might end up with too much time on your hands.

Howard Bell retired from the presidency of the American Advertising Federation in 1991. Since then he has stayed busy as a consultant on advertising issues with a Washington law firm and as the pro bono head of the American Advertising Foundation, the charitable and educational affiliate of the AAF.

"What I decided," Howard told me at his home in Deep Creek Lake, on the western border of Maryland, "is that I wanted to get out of the fast lane but I didn't want to get off the highway."

Howard says that knowing when to retire is key. "What I have seen too often is that people stay in their jobs too long. I wanted to leave when people still wanted me to stay."

Also important, he feels, is not to interfere with what the new guy does. "I did not in any way want to get into Wally Snyder's hair. I was very supportive of Wally's getting the job, and the last thing the former CEO should do is second-guess" the current head man.

Howard cautions new retirees not to be influenced by the old guard. "There are always people who long for the good old days."

Howard and his great wife Chan's other house guests were Mary and Bernie Flanagan. Bernie, an adman's adman, has been with Dow Jones for 42 years, most recently as corporate VP-marketing, responsible for advertising in The Wall Street Journal's regional editions and also advertising and promotion of the Journal and Barron's. Along the way, he's opened offices in Minneapolis and Pittsburgh, served as ad director and publisher of Barron's and VP-advertising of the Journal.

"I've had a very good run," Bernie told me between playing some great old songs for us on the Bells' piano. "I've met the finest people in the world and had the excitement of selling some of the biggest accounts in the world. I'll always be very thankful."

Bernie is not cutting his ties with the business. He'll serve as a consultant to Dow Jones, "but only to the point where I can enjoy my retirement as well." He'll continue to speak at adclubs and other groups in behalf of Dow Jones and do association work.

Bernie is very aware that once he's gone, "another person comes in to run things the way he or she sees fit. It might not be the way I'd do it, but new ideas are always needed and appreciated. I would hope that the new person would keep the basic precepts that I laid down over the years-the most important thing to remember is that it's a people business and that your true clients are your own sales people."

Bernie will have lots of things to keep him busy, including golf, his 42-foot boat, music, "keeping all my old friends and seeing my kids and eight grandchildren around the country a little more." He might write a book about his business experiences.

Bernie sums up: "I'm not going to be lonely, I don't think."

Both Howard and Bernie believe that the most important thing is to stay active.

"Stay involved in something," Howard advises, "and stay active both physically and mentally. Advertising is a very high-profile business, and when you stop doing what you've been doing, have something else in mind."

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