Sunday, July 04, 2010

Austin Hay Resigns After 55 Years of Civil Service

Austin Hay's a member of my club (The Arts Club of Washington, DC), as well as perhaps the longest-serving Federal employee in Washington, as well as an actor with a long career as a movie extra. The Washington Post paid him tribute in the Style Section:
Hay deposits himself into slot E63-447 in a honeycomb of cubicles on an upper floor of the southeast wing of the building. He used to have his own office in the old department headquarters. He used to make informational and training films for the Army at a studio in Astoria, N.Y., where he hired Henry Fonda and Paul Newman for guest spots, where he gave Dick Cavett his first on-camera job, where he befriended an up-and-coming Walter Cronkite.

He moved to the District in 1973 to work for the Federal Highway Administration, for which he traveled the nation's arteries as a producer-director to capture the sprawling progress on film.

Kelly's success pulled Hay toward stage and screen, but the competitive life of a full-time actor wasn't for him. He wanted a solid career that would allow room for his passions: a movie now and then, painting, playing piano, active membership in many organizations such as the Arts Club of Washington, the Cosmos Club and the National Press Club.

"As the years go by, it's unbelievable how things accumulate," Hay says, sitting at his desk, surrounded by emptied file shelves, 11 boxes of this and that, paintings used in his documentary "Highways of History," a bouquet of deflating "Happy Retirement" balloons that sway in the air conditioning. Nearby is a large, yellow trash bin for discarding the less-meaningful etcetera of an office life. There's a stack of DVDs of movies he has appeared in through Central Casting.

He's the pallbearer who says "What about Chauncey Gardiner?" in the closing scene of "Being There" in 1979. He's Tom Selleck's confidante in "Her Alibi" in 1989. He's the speaker of the House behind Jeff Bridges during his climactic address to Congress in "The Contender" in 2000.

Hay likes how his life has been italicized by glittery moments and chance encounters. He stayed at his job because he enjoyed it, because it anchored him. He's leaving now because some of his friends have died and "life is going by" and he wants to savor it fully. Tomorrow, he'll sleep in. He'll paint. He'll catch up with friends. He'll make travel plans.
Happy Trails, Austin!