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May 23, 2008

Marblehead grandmother heads to Mongolia with Peace Corps

MARBLEHEAD — It's not your usual retirement plan.

At 65, Judy Gates can relax on her back porch and enjoy a spectacular view of Marblehead Harbor. It's the perfect spot for a rocking chair and a good book. But Gates doesn't want a rocking chair. And by the end of May, she won't have much use for the back porch either. In fact, on Friday she leaves for Mongolia — that's right, Mongolia — where she'll serve two years in the Peace Corps.

"We all have to figure out what is meaningful in our lives," she says. "One of the most important ways to find meaning is by trying to do things for others." She pauses, contemplating what lies ahead. "I'll probably gain far more than I give. ... I don't expect this to be easy. But at my age, I'm ready for a challenge."

Cincinnati-born, Gates moved to Marblehead with her husband, Bob, in 1965. They raised two children — by happenstance both are now in Brooklyn, N.Y., raising her grandchildren. Over the years, Gates worked at a number of jobs, learning, developing a strong affinity for computer technology, writing advertising copy, honing her skills in marketing and communication.

Once the kids were grown, she involved herself more closely in community activities, winning election as a library trustee, for example. "I've always been involved in nonprofit stuff."

Some of these talents, she hopes, will be of use as a Peace Corps worker.

"I began thinking about it a year ago," she says of her decision. "My husband had passed away (two years ago)." She looked off in the distance for a moment. "For me, that was a major transition." The Peace Corps was something from her college days, a newly formed institution then and a magnet for the idealistic.

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