SYRACUSE – Nothing seems to stop CSEA member Richard Heath from showing up at his job as a school crossing guard through the Syracuse City Police Department.
Not his age, at 78 years young.
Not even winning a lottery jackpot.
Five days a week, twice a day and no matter the weather, Heath can be found at his usual crosswalk in the Valley section south of Syracuse, helping children safely cross a busy road on their way to and from nearby Van Duyn Elementary School.
While working, his right arm wields a hand-held stop sign to halt vehicular traffic, but it’s his left arm that gets the real workout.
“One arm gets all the exercise, because that’s the one I wave with,” he said, grinning. A neighborhood fixture for the past 16 years, drivers are constantly passing Heath and waving a friendly hello.
So, after Heath scratched a lottery ticket last September revealing the word “life” three times, winning the big million-dollar jackpot, one could easily imagine him hanging up his yellow reflective safety vest for retirement, one that he’s earned.
But retirement simply doesn’t interest him. He wants to stay active and keep helping the kids.
“I never thought about it. I don’t know if there’s an age limit,” he said. “They might tell me to retire.”
Short of that, Heath doesn’t plan on going anywhere. Even a recent broken foot only sidelined him for a month.
Now he’s back on the job, walking a little more slowly, but still sharing smiles with the kids.
He gave retirement a brief tryout in 2001, when he left his full-time job of 20 years as a truck driver, but jokes that it just didn’t take. “The wife wanted me out of the house,” he said with a laugh.
Now he works about 10 hours per week, and really enjoys being out and about.
“It’s just being out there, even though it’s cold,” Heath said. “I like being with the people, including the kids.”
And after so many years, he’s now seeing children of kids he used to help cross at his crosswalk.
“I’ve had kids [who used to cross at the crosswalk]whose kids I cross now,” he said. “The only thing that doesn’t change is the faces. After a while, you’re looking up at them.”
He says he plans to use the roughly $536,000, after taxes, to help his four kids and six grandchildren, and do a little more traveling with his wife Beverly. “It just makes life a little easier,” he said.
But he’s still working.
“I never did it for the money,” he said. “I enjoy being alive.”
And that enjoyment exemplifies his never quit spirit. Asked if he would ever quit on his union, he said, “No. Our union is helping people. That’s the main reason.”
Just like he does, twice a day, every school day.