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Hitting New Highs

Retiree scales mountains, volunteers at Boston Marathon

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  Posted March 23, 2009 138

“Retirees in Action,” a new series on hpNOW, showcases HP retirees and alumni who are active in the business world and their communities. If you know a member of the HP Retiree and Alumni Outreach program who might be a good candidate for this series, please email hpNOW.

There are two sides to HP retiree George Birner. The quiet side, in which Birner is perfectly content hiking in the wilderness of New England’s White Mountains — carrying everything he needs on his back while having little or no human contact for a week or more. This side of him also loves gliding silently above the landscape in hot air balloons.

Retiree Spotlight

The other side of Birner revels in speeding along the open road astride his BMW motorcycle or one of his Japanese-built café bikes, savoring the roar of the engine and maneuvering the sharp turns with gusto.

Presumably, it is the “noisier George” who will show up near the Boston Marathon finish line on Patriots Day, April 20. On that day, he will be smack in the middle of a huge crowd of spectators, giving updates to friends and families of the 25,000-plus runners on his iPAQ Pocket PC.

Birner will be one of 100 HP volunteers working at the event, for which HP is the technology sponsor. Wearing a tall striped “Cat in the Hat”-style hat with the words “Ask me about your runner,” he provides eager fans with real-time data as the runners travel the 26.2-mile course from Hopkinton, Massachusetts, to Copley Square in Boston.

People stand in line patiently, waiting to give Birner their runner’s name or number. They are often amazed to learn that not only can he tell them where their runner is on the course, he can also tell them when to expect to see them cross the finish line.

“Even with all the advances in technology, people are still amazed that I can provide them with this information on the spot,” he says. “I love doing this.”

Birner says that being close to the finish line is a memorable experience every year. “While it is exciting to see the elite runners from around the globe coming in, the best part for me is when the ‘real’ runners come by an hour or two later,” he said.

Employees going to the Boston Marathon can look for George at his “office” outside Eastern Mountain Sports, across from the Prudential Center Plaza on Boylston Street, a block from the finish line.

‘Closing the deal’ at DEC

A graduate of Wentworth Institute in Boston with a degree in aeronautical engineering, George retired after a 24-year DEC/Compaq/HP career in 2005. He is currently working as an HP contractor in Marlboro, Massachusetts, supporting the Open Source Linux lab.

He joined Digital when he was in his 30s, after working for several years in the automotive repair business. “I remember seeing the DEC helicopter flying over the car dealership I worked at and thinking, ‘I want to fly in that some day,’” he said.

His neighbor helped him get a contact at DEC to realize that dream. He recalls how it happened:

“It took a little tenacity and persistence on my part,” he says. “The first time I met the contact, I was asked if I could type. I couldn’t, so I went home, purchased a book and learned how to touch type. The second time I talked with the contact, he asked if I knew how to program. I didn’t, so I purchased a book and learned how to program. The third time I talked with the contact, he said they had a job for me and hired me into the Professional Software Services group at Parker Street in Maynard (Massachusetts). I was hired to work on the CPOSS documentation which became the All-In-One office automation product.”

Life after HP

A native of Middletown, Connecticut, Birner currently lives in Hollis, New Hampshire, with his wife and hiking companion, Patty.

Together, they have scaled more than half of the 48 New Hampshire mountain peaks higher than 4,000 feet. The Birners also enjoy both downhill and cross-country skiing; and George is crew chief for a hot air balloon, setting up, launching and chasing the balloon for commercial flights and at rallies.

The Birners enjoy sharing their outdoor lifestyle with their children and grandchildren, especially their 11-year-old grandson.