Woman, 93, Reveals Her Secret to Career Longevity as She Retires After 69 Years at Same Ad Agency

Joelle Goldstein
·5 min read

Wunderman Thompson Ginny Bahr

When it comes to retirement, most people stop working between their 60s and 70s — but Virginia "Ginny" Bahr is not like most people.

In December 1951, at just 24-years-old, Bahr started working as a receptionist at J. Walter Thompson (JWT), an advertising agency based in New York City.

Little did she know that she'd stay there for the next 69 years, even as they merged with digital advertising agency Wunderman to become Wunderman Thompson in 2018.

Now, at 93-years-old, their longest-standing employee is finally retiring — not because she has to, but at her family's request that she take the time to slow down.

"I'm going to miss all that excitement of seeing people every day. I'll see my neighbors, but it's not exactly the same," Bahr, who has worked remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, tells PEOPLE. "I've been very fortunate. That's a company that took me along with them... and it's been a good ride."

Wunderman Thompson Archives Ginny Bahr

Prior to her lengthy gig, Bahr says she worked at a publishing company for three years.

Her first job at JWT was in public relations — something she admits she initially "wasn't happy" with — but she later moved into the finance department and went on to work as a secretary for many of the past vice presidents and CEOs.

"I said, 'I'd rather work among the people,' because the people are behind the whole thing," Bahr explains.

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Over the years, Bahr would start her day by taking the same train and bus to work in Midtown Manhattan before coming into the office to interact with her coworkers and work on a variety of accounts, including Ford, Pan Am, Shell and Rolex.

"I've been with Thompson long enough to see it move along. And it's done just that... I've been very fortunate to be part of it," she says. "I've never been a big wig, but I've worked for some top people and seen a lot of things that have gone on over the years."

Wunderman Thompson Archives Ginny Bahr's employee badges over the years

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Some of those things were typical work-related events, like promotions, retirements and departures, but others involved major historical moments, like being in New York City on the day former President John F. Kennedy was assassinated and during 9/11.

"A cleaning lady came in the middle of the day around lunchtime... and said, 'Why aren't you going home?'" Bahr says, recalling Nov. 22, 1963. "I said, 'Why would I be going home?' She said, 'Well, you didn't know the President was just shot?'"

"I had no idea," she continues. "I was sitting off in the side all by myself. The office had emptied out and the streets were a huge mob of people... and I wouldn't have known it if the cleaning lady hadn't come in. I probably would have been sitting there to this day!"

During her tenure at Wunderman Thompson, Bahr made sure to donate a portion of every single paycheck to different charities and would organize blood drives at the company each year.

"I couldn't give as much as I'd like to have, but I did usually come up with help," she explains. "And that's within you... I happen to like people and I guess I have a big heart when you come down to it."

"You can just do so much," adds Bahr. "And I'm really hoping that as I leave the company, that someone will be behind to carry this [blood drive] tradition on."

JWT Archives, Rubenstein Library, Duke University Ginny Bahr with Burt Manning, JWT's Global CEO, at her 40th Anniversary Celebration

In honor of her retirement, Wunderman Thompson has shown their appreciation with several departure gifts.

Shane Atchison, Wunderman Thompson North America's CEO, gave Bahr an Honorary Chairwoman title. A mural of her is also being created in the agency's New York office and the company is renaming a bar in the office as the "Ginny 'Bahr.'"

Additionally, Dec. 17 — her original start date in 1951 — will become a "Ginny Bahr holiday" at Wunderman Thompson.

Says Atchison: "Ginny is an absolute legend in the ad industry. For 69 years she has been a positive force in our company. She has used her position to spread joy and respect and bring people together.

Atchison calls her a "beautiful example of a career well done," adding, "Her generous spirit has added so much to our New York office and beyond."

"I feel embarrassed," Bahr says of the honors. "I don't like attention. All I do is just go to work every day, and it's been part of my life. I've enjoyed it there. I wouldn't have done it so many years, but I like people. And that's what life is all about."

JWT Archives, Rubenstein Library, Duke University Ginny Bahr on Kodak Microfilm

With more time on her hands, Bahr — who currently lives alone in Westchester County, New York— plans to spend time outdoors working on her vegetable garden when it's warmer and hopes to see her extended family more.

As she reflects on her nearly 70-year career, Bahr has one piece of advice for those hoping to follow in her footsteps.

"Enjoy what you're doing. Be grateful that you have the time and that you can afford to go to work every day and get paid for it," she says. "We only have one life. Isn't that what they say? You will only make out of it what you put into it."

"And you have to enjoy people," she adds. "I think that's the basic thing. I look forward to seeing people every day. And I hope others can find the same richness that I've gotten out of life."