Krakora and Bryant at home in Boonsboro, where traditional Virginia architecture acts as backdrop for dramatic mid-century modern design and furnishings.
Retirement in 2019 is poles apart from its connotation in 1999… or 2009, for that matter. The days of lackadaisically whiling away the hours, puttering around the yard and playing bridge with the Browns on Wednesday nights are as quaint—and antiquated—as black and white television.
If anything, the so-called golden years bring new purpose, and sometimes even a different destination to call home. Joe Krakora and his wife Ellen Bryant were both longtime executives at the National Gallery in Washington, DC. He has also worked at The Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center, in New York City’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and The City Center Joffrey Ballet, and as a writer and filmmaker. Bryant grew up in Richmond and visited family in Lynchburg regularly. She then spent 23 years in several lofty positions at the Gallery. After attending a 2018 family gathering in central Virginia, the couple “retired” to Lynchburg with their 15-year-old toy poodle, Gesso.
“Our retirement path was born out of a drive to spend as much time together as possible,” Bryant tells HOME. “Washington can be a fun and exciting place to live, but the traffic, congestion, distractions and expenses can be exhausting. We felt like we never saw each other.”
The painting over the mantel was damaged when the delivery truck fell off a bridge and into the Potomac; painter Tom Bostelle repaired it and incorporated the water damage into the piece.
Adds Krakora, “You never know when you make a move like this if you will be happy, if you will make friends, if you will feel a part of something, but we hit the jackpot with Lynchburg. We have met so many wonderful, interesting, talented people who have welcomed us into the community. We were in DC a few weeks ago and could not wait to get back home—to Lynchburg.”
The kitchen is clean and spare, with painted beams, exposed brick and Sputnik lighting overhead. Not pictured is a cupola rescued from the barn of an 18th century farmhouse and displayed in a corner.
The couple’s mandate now, Krakora says, is to spend as much quality time together while remaining active in the community. “Over many years I learned the lessons of life from others—their secrets of happiness and success. My retirement is fully based on that commitment to giving back and sharing all that I have learned from others,” he offers. “Retirement also provides the opportunity to recharge the batteries and to learn more, to build new relationships and to increase your caring about others. It is fully enjoying life and the ‘laying on of hands.’” That includes the couple’s work on a new musical project and an active role with Randolph College’s Maier Museum.
Financial writer Kerry Hannon, in her 2012 book, Great Jobs for Everyone 50+, quips, “I think the word ‘retired’ needs to be retired. Baby boomers are either continuing to work much longer or approaching work not as an afterthought. For many retirees, working in retirement is quickly becoming a new stage in career progression.”
And here’s a twist. An NPR story explains that as a word, retirement “has already undergone substantial change in its lifetime,” according to Katherine Martin, head of U.S. dictionaries at Oxford University Press. “Its earliest known use in English in 1536 referred to withdrawal or retreat in a military context. By the early 17th century, it had taken on new meaning, referring to the state of living apart from society in seclusion. Then, by the middle of the 18th century, the use that is now most familiar became common, referring to the action of leaving office, employment or service, especially due to age.”
Part & parcel of Lynchburg’s arts renewal
Like so many Lynchburg retirees, Krakora and Bryant offer a wealth of career accomplishments and creativity—just as central Virginia embraces the arts with renewed enthusiasm: Witness the flourishing Academy Center of the Arts, Lynchburg Art Club, Endstation Theatre Company, Lynchburg Symphony Orchestra and robust arts programs at local colleges and universities.
Their DC home only had a tiny garden spot, so Krakora revels in the terraced garden here, incorporating sculpture from his travels and a piece he created from local tornado damage in April 2018.
Having worked in the arts for more than 60 years, Krakora brings three decades of experience as Executive Officer for External and International Affairs at the National Gallery. Before that (take a deep breath) Krakora served as Associate Director of Development at Lincoln Center, Executive VP of The Joffrey, Dance Director of The National Endowment for the Arts, Executive VP and Director of New Programs & Media Production at The Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center, General Director of The Chicago City Ballet, and Special Advisor to the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities at The White House during the Reagan administration. He has also written, produced and directed several films (winning a pair of Emmys) and written a kid’s book, Yuki’s Journey, whose proceeds benefit tsunami relief efforts for children.
Krakora has collected more than 75 light sculptures by Castiglioni and other mid-century Italian designers; paintings in the hallway include pieces by Tom Bostelle, Ken Hunters and David Nash.
Bryant attended UVA before joining the National Gallery in Visitor Services as a “ticket handler” during the blockbuster Johannes Vermeer exhibition in 1995. Over the next 23 years, she was Deputy to Executive Officer, External and International Affairs, Head of Global Initiatives, and Chief of Staff for Protective Services.
“As I weaseled my way into Joe’s department—External Affairs at the National Gallery—Joe weaseled his way into my heart,” she quips. The couple was married in 2015 and lived in Georgetown; Krakora had retired as Bryant continued working, now for Gallery Security: “I worked crazy hours in a crazy job,” she reflects. They agreed: “This was no kind of life,” added Bryant.
Her mother grew up in Lynchburg and she often visited her grandparents here. “So there was a connection,” she says. After attending a funeral, they fell in love with the town. “People here are outgoing, friendly, active, reading, doing things. We could be out doing something smart and fun every night of the week.”
The “May-December aspect of our relationship,” as Bryant describes it, “puts more emphasis on spending time together and learning from each other. As Joe was retired and I continued to work, we felt time was slipping away. Sitting at our kitchen table in Georgetown, we began to hatch a plan.”
And here they are. According to Krakora, “We chose Lynchburg for its beauty, size, affordability and the friendliness of the residents. The community here has been so welcoming; I think that is very unique, and certainly would not happen in DC.”
Completing each other’s sentences, the couple shares, “Once we decided to make this move, our joke has been ‘24/7,’ meaning spending all of our time together. It’s something we say to each other if we can tell we are getting on the other person’s nerves—but always with love and jest because we could not be happier with our decision.” Krakora adds, “When we told people in DC about our plan, some thought we were crazy and others totally got it. In fact, we have several friends who have now started the search for the ‘right next place’ for them.”
Today, resettling certainly has not meant settling down. Bryant says, “We are enjoying having time to become immersed in the community and build roots, to have time for new interests. That’s what excites me. In DC, with work and the commute, I did not have time to volunteer much or get involved in other organizations, let alone develop hobbies or personal interests. We’ve just begun to scratch the surface of all that Lynchburg has to offer; every day we hear about something new that we’d like to know more about and become involved. And we believe this is a place where you can become a part of something far greater than yourself.”
“Retiring to Lynchburg has opened my eyes to the world surrounding me,” Krakora adds. “When you come from Richmond on Route 64 and turn onto 29 South, the world changes before your eyes. You are surrounded by the glory of nature with rolling valleys, monumental trees and the magnificent mountains in the distance that look as if they were painted by Leonardo, brushed with blue haze. It is like going back in time, being fully at peace and refreshed in retirement.”✦