But the Westerbergs are exceptions. In the three years since they relinquished to a son-in-law the reins of Queen's-Way to Fashion, the women's apparel firm they founded together, they have thrived in retirement. At 74, Larry is active as a pup, a dapper, mustachioed man who says with a wink, "I'm trying to keep from being arrested for vagrancy." A business magazine once described Mabel as a "nicely rounded dumpling of a grandmother." Her response was succinct and noncommittal. "Of all things," she said.
The Westerbergs have made travel an outlet for at least some of their creative fire. They have taken a raft trip down the Colorado, shooting the rapids and sleeping under the open sky, and three times now have driven some of their 10 grandchildren through Europe. Last winter they lived for several weeks in a mobile home in Texas, later moving on to a condominium on Florida's Gulf Coast where Larry gamely found himself the only man among two dozen women in a calisthenics class at the building's swimming pool. "It was fun," he chirps. "We were taught underwater isometrics. Afterward we got to swim."
Their retirement reflects the same adventurousness that spurred them to found Queen's-Way in 1952. Both were in their 50s, an age when others often are slowing up. Larry was a $14,000-a-year merchandising consultant and the couple's daughters were married. Mabel suddenly got the idea of selling casual wear on "the party plan"—through neighborhood Kaffeeklatsches. Within a year Queen's-Way outgrew the Westerberg basement and moved into its own plant. And it has kept on growing: Queen's-Way today has 7,000 "fashion counselors" in 46 states and rings up annual sales of $26 million. Mabel says, "It wasn't easy to step aside. The business is our baby, don't you know?"
The Westerbergs' adjustment was eased by their having worked side by side at Queen's-Way. That helped spare them the strains that, as Moritz Milburn suggests, women and their newly retired husbands undergo when they are abruptly thrown together for 24 hours a day. Having jointly run a large business, the Westerbergs found it easy to reach agreement on such matters as itineraries and the artwork they began buying during their travels. Their acquisitions have ranged from ivory carvings from Kenya to an oil by Picasso's onetime mistress, Françoise Gilot, and they even saw eye to eye on the $125 doll that Mabel once discovered in an antique shop in Toledo, Ohio. "Oh, I love it!" she exclaimed. "It reminds me of Mamie, the doll I had when I was young." Larry agreed to buy the doll as a gift for his wife's birthday. "For a 72-year-old woman," he sighed.
The Westerbergs retain a 50% interest in Queen's-Way, even though they have refrained from darkening its doorways too often. Visiting the Queen's-Way receiving terminal the day before their trip to Kalamazoo, they were led on a grand tour by the manager, who complained that they had not visited for three months. This truancy was underscored when the fellow kept addressing them as "Mr. and Mrs. Westenberg." The visitors ignored the error and later, stopping at the main plant, Larry was embarrassed when he forgot the name of a longtime employee.
Strolling through the busy plant, Westerberg proudly pointed out a profit-sharing chart, a conveyor-belt system and a full array of computers. "We're getting so darn sophisticated," he beamed, still using the corporate "we." Then he admitted, "Sometimes I think we're too sophisticated. I get afraid that we're expanding too fast or that the young fellows are spending too much on consulting firms. But we try not to meddle."
"You can't hold on forever, don't you know?" Mabel said.
The Westerbergs regard retirement as a spiritual test. Both are Christian Scientists who give doctors' offices a wide berth and refuse to dwell on life's infirmities. But this did not spare them the gloomy attentions of an acquaintance, an oldtimer in a string tie they ran into at a restaurant following their visit to Queen's-Way.
The man joined the Westerbergs at their table and began telling them, in clinical detail, of illnesses he had suffered in the preceding months. Next he was itemizing the medicines he was taking, a litany he concluded by cackling, "My first name should be Pill." Then he eagerly brought word of the recent death of a mutual friend.
"Sorry to hear it," Larry said.