A little work at the computer, a spell on his tractor, dinner with friends, and a movie at the end of the day add up to the good life for Roger Lipman.
At 68, he finds his life expanding as his career demands decrease. He left full-time commercial insurance work about five years ago and now is involved with International Pro Insurance on what he calls an emeritus basis. He also serves on the board of a mechanical engineering contracting company. “Retirement is a process you go through,” he explains.
For Roger, part of that process is taking place at his ranch in Lake County. He and his wife, Rebecca Barnes-Lipman, divide their time between Benicia and their 40 acres north of Calistoga. “We’ve got two ponds, the vineyard, an orchard, a greenhouse, 63 olive trees, water leaks,” he says. “We press our own olive oil, make our own bread and jams with fruit from the orchard. We just put in bees so we can have our own honey.”
Roger moved to Benicia in the early 1970s and served on the City Council from 1978 to 1982. He was on the board of the YMCA in the 1980s and, in the 1990s, he chaired the Solano County Private Industry Council during a tumultuous time in its history. He’s also known around town for his work with good friend Steve Gizzi as Arts Benicia auctioneers.
“We never want to move from Benicia. We love it here,” he says, citing the town’s sense of community as a prime reason to stay.
His life now provides more time for friends and travel, and a chance to think about what is important to him.
“You know, my theory is you should never work hard. I didn’t work hard—though my wife would disagree with that statement,” he says. “I had fun. I worked smart and I had fun.”
What lead you to serve in public office and with nonprofits?
I’ve always done that. This is Philosophy 1A for me … Somebody helped me throughout my entire life, not with a handout, but many people gave me opportunities throughout my life. I want to pay it forward to others. Everybody helped me do things. Why shouldn’t we help someone else?
There was a saying I heard when I was 12 about passing through this world but once. So anything good I can do, let me do it for I shall not pass this way again. That’s not the exact wording, but that thought caught with me when I was 12 and I lived it. I’m sure I could have done some things differently—I’m not perfect.
How did you prepare for this stage of your life?
I’ve been a planner my whole life, always thinking about what I wanted to be doing in 20 years. I always say that I don’t know what I’ll be doing for dinner, but I know what I’ll be doing in 20 years, at least in general.
When I was a teenager and filling out my Social Security card form, they didn’t require birth certificates and I thought that if I put down that I was born in 1940 instead of 1943, I could retire three years earlier. Even then I was planning for the future—what teenager does that?
So we bought the (Lake County) property in the 1980s. When it came time to build, we spent five, six, seven years stealing ideas for it. We finished construction in 2006. In 2007, we put in the vineyard—a half-acre of cabernet franc.
Do you love wine in general?
I like to drink wine, but I’m not a connoisseur.
So why did you decide to plant wine grapes?
We moved in, and then we needed something to keep us busy. Grapes were a logical choice. … Remember, grapes are weeds, they grow naturally. And probably in terms of the long run, properties with vineyards have a greater resale value. We have 800 vines of cabernet franc.
How did you choose cabernet franc grapes?
It’s a blending wine grape. By using that, I can always sell it. In 2009, we had enough grapes to make wine. In 2010, we sold the grapes. …
We’re trying to grow super-premium grapes as organically as possible. We have a yield of three to four tons per acre.
What have you learned?
I’ve learned how hard farmers work. I think about farmers who work every day, and a crop can get wiped out in a single day. The first year, the birds flew in one afternoon and the next morning, we had no grapes. Now we have nets. But I’m a hobby grower, I’m not pressured to have a return to pay investors or bankers or the bills.
I’ve also experienced the pleasure of watching things grow. I grew up in Oakland, so I’m a city rat. Watching things grow is so cool, seeing the little buds turn into little grapes and then get bigger.
What’s a typical day on the ranch?
I get up, work at the computer, then I get dressed about 9 and go out and the day goes on from there. I walk around all day. …. When you’ve got a ranch, you’re always working. At the end of the day, we fight over the cooking. We both like to cook.
How does that differ from a day in Benicia?
Down here, my favorite thing to do in the morning is go the Rellik to get espresso and a bear claw. But I have to share the bear claw, I can’t eat a whole one by myself.
When I’m here, I’m usually working with one company or the other. We like having dinner with friends, going to the theater in San Francisco. We love to entertain.
Do you have any advice for those who want to start planning for their future?
In your 30s, you get your best ideas. The brilliance you have in your 30s sets so many things in motion. It’s the time you form your career, solidify your family. And you should be looking 20 years out at a minimum. The 30s are time to solidify your plans.
In your 40s, you have your chance to really bond with your kids, make friends who will last a lifetime, and then get serious about your finances.
The 50s are tough on males. We’re not what we once were. Most guys go nuts because they realize this is the best they’re going to be and it’s not nearly as good as it was. You try to prove everything in your 50s.
From the 60s on—well, I don’t know about the 70s yet—it’s time to have fun. I don’t have to worry about a lot now. And you realize you don’t have to win an argument. Kindness is the root of it all.
In your 70s, I think you have a great time just watching what’s going on around you.
What will you be doing in 20 years?
Number 1, I’ll be old. I think I’ll be puttering around. Not much will change. I’ll still enjoy all the things I enjoy, but maybe not at this pace.
What have you realized as you moved through the different stages of life?
People are good, life is fun, love everyone—and dance. I love to dance, but it’s been awhile.