He retired, in theory, 25 years ago. But there has been little down time for lifelong Scott County resident Joe Fuller since he last worked for CSX Transportation as officer in charge of all railroad operations in Kingsport, Tenn., in 1988.
I spin my wheels a lot, he simply said. "I stay busy."
Fuller has been active in the Kingsport area, as well in the Scott County and Southwest Virginia regions, through community and civic organizations for many years. He has helped initiate programs and events citizens of this region have grown to enjoy and appreciate regularly.
He was on the board of directors of the Greater Area Chamber of Commerce from 1979 to 1988, and was a member of the 1980 board that initiated the highly anticipated annual Fun Fest event, which has become one of the top-ranked community events in the state of Tennessee.
As part of his position with the railroad, the Christmas-born Virginia native was in charge of the annual Santa Train operations from 1978 to 1987.
"My life has been an amazing journey," Fuller reflected. "I've enjoyed all the organizations I've been associated with."
He was a member of the Kingsport Optimist Club where he received Optimist of the Year awards in 1970, '71, '75 and '76 and served as president from 1976-77. He also served as lieutenant governor of the Tennessee District from 1978-79.
It was his association with the Rotary Clubs of Downtown Kingsport and later of Scott County - the latter of which Fuller helped establish in November 1988 - which allowed him to achieve the honor of the Paul Harris Fellowship Award in 1988 (Kingsport) and 1989 (Scott County).
Having given up the everyday grind of the workplace a quarter of a century ago, Fuller's schedule might seem a bit demanding, working lengthy hours for no pay during his "golden" years. However, he enjoys what he does and, though his attempt at a "regular" retirement proved rather futile, that isn't to say he didn't try.
Fuller was hired by the former Clinchfield Railroad in 1952 and worked for them, later known as CSX Transportation, until he retired 36 years later.
"When I first retired I was lost," Fuller said. It took awhile to get used to not being associated with the same people. Af ter retiring, he served as Development Manager for the Downtown Kingsport Association for three years until 1991 when he went to live part-time in Jacksonville, Fla., to as he explains, "enjoy the sunshine and play a little golf."
While in the Sunshine State, Fuller became active in a condo association. All the while, he maintained his association with organizations in the Scott County and Kingsport areas, splitting his time living between Florida and Virginia.
"I was burning my candle at both ends," he said.
After 13 years of part-time living in the deep south, the 82-year old bachelor sold his condo and returned home to live year-round in Scott County - next door to his brother and sister-in-law. He never married because, as he put it, "In my situation it suited me, I've had opportunities I never would have had."
Fuller continues to be active in his community, though now most of his activities are "confined to Virginia," he said. He is currently treasurer of the Scott County Chamber of Commerce, and since 2009, he has served as chairman of the Scott County Economic Development Authority.
"As to economic development, we are in good shape to provide opportunities for prospects looking to Scott County to start a new business or to expand," Fuller assured. "We have prime development property and state-of-the-art buildings in place that can be configured to suit prospective tenants as needed."
He has also served as a board member of Mountain States Health Alliance for Kingsport's Indian Path Medical Center, and presently serves as vice president of the Sullivan County Community board. In October 2011, Fuller was given the Tom Chase Award by the Mountain States Foundation in Johnson City, Tenn., and was later congratulated for it by the Tennessee State Senate.
Fuller's most recent honor, however, came in early 2012.
The Scott County Rotary Club, where he once held the title of charter club president and is still an active member, decided to endow their club scholarship in his name, changing it to the Joe Fuller Scott County Rotary Club Scholarship.
"I was pleased and very grateful for it," Fuller said humbly with a subtle smile.
Though he has been bestowed with these and other honors for his civic duty, his drive to serve has been fueled simply by the satisfaction of "giving back to the community." His goal is not to shed light on his own accomplishments, but those of the clubs and organizations he represents. As an example, he points out a back-to-school program and Christmas shoe fund that's carried out by the Scott County Rotary Club to assist disadvantaged kids in the region.
Fuller encourages others to become active in their community and do their part because as he so aptly points out, "one person can't do much but everybody together can do a lot."