Keep going

Palome had lean years when he couldn’t easily save. He decided to take a job running a Friendly’s restaurant in Parsippany, N.J., from 1990 to 1993. He figured he’d acquire new skills, which have since proved useful.

“Tom always did what he had to do to keep going,” said his younger brother Peter, who’s 66 and lives in the same senior community.

Palome later ran a restaurant at a New Jersey golf club while he continued his consulting. At 64, when an 800 square foot manufactured home he’d seen in Plant City, a Tampa suburb, became available for $21,500, he purchased it with a credit card to amass frequent flier miles. He then sold his New Jersey home for $180,000, kept what he needed to quickly pay off his credit card debt and divided the rest among his children so they’d have down payments for their own homes.

“The house was theirs as much as mine, and that’s their inheritance from me,” he said.

Don’t panic

At first everything went according to his plan. Palome enjoyed the year-round warm weather and he avoided dipping into savings by doing part-time bartending and catering. Then the financial crisis hit. Palome’s part-time work evaporated. His savings, which he’d invested mostly in stocks, shrank from about $90,000 to less than $40,000.

“I was shocked by how fast I lost so much,” he said.

Palome didn’t panic. He rewrote his resume, taking out references to his corporate career so he wouldn’t appear overqualified for restaurant and hotel jobs. He searched online jobs sites and local papers for leads. Between 2008 and 2011 he figures he applied for about 100 jobs.

He came close to getting two of those until his prospective employers learned his age. He was never told explicitly that he was too old for a job. Yet hiring managers who asked when he could start working never called again after he submitted required copies of his driver’s license with his birth date.

Foreclosure City

“I was in a foreclosure city in a foreclosure state,” he said. “So many people were out of work. Who wants to hire a 75-year-old?”

Two years ago, Palome saw an advertisement in a local paper for an AARP Foundation job training program. He met with Maxine Haynes, the program’s Tampa project director, who helped him get an interview at Advantage Sales & Marketing LLC, which runs food demonstrations for Sam’s Club and other stores.

“He had so much energy and enthusiasm when he walked through the door here, I knew I had to try to help him,” Haynes said.

Palome aced the interview with a spontaneous pitch on how to sell a simple magic marker. Still, he worried his age would be a deal breaker.

“You ought to know I’m 75,” he offered.

“Age is only a number,” Wanice Matthews, Palome’s current boss at Advantage Sales & Marketing, later said. “If I had 10 more Toms on my team, I’d have the best team in the business.”

Every other morning, Palome does 70 sit-ups and 70 squats and almost as many leg lifts and arm strengthening exercises. He alternates his at-home exercises with two or three 10-mile bike rides each week.

Heating pad

At Sam’s Club, his single 30-minute break during his seven-and-a-half hour shift is not enough time to prevent backaches and leg cramps after standing all day.

“Make sure you rest when you get home and don’t do any housecleaning,” Palome recently advised a new employee, a widow who hasn’t worked in years.

When Palome gets home, he stretches out on his couch, tucking a heating pad behind his back before preparing a light supper. He goes to bed by 10 p.m.

If Palome has one regret, it’s that he didn’t get better retirement investing advice somewhere along the line. “I thought I could do it on my own,” he said.

Still, he’s proud of his accomplishments. He built a career in marketing, raised a family following a tragic loss and helped his kids get a start in life.

“I’m not going to sit on my laurels and say I was an executive making six figures and traveling the world,” he said. “I tell people I demonstrate food and I do short-order cooking. I don’t mind saying it. What’s important is that I can work today.”

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