This is a profile of what we think of as an “uberboomer”- but he would certainly never call himself that – you decide.
Jeff Caulfeild-James graduated from the Naval Academy in 1977. He then attended the University of Virginia and earned a Masters in Nuclear Engineering, after which he spent 17 months immersed in the nuclear power submarine-training-pipeline at Navy schools in Florida, Idaho, and Connecticut. Jeff reported to the USS Lewis and Clark based out of Charleston, SC in November 1979. The Lewis and Clark was one of the Benjamin Franklin-class nuclear powered fleet ballistic missile submarines that patrolled 70 days (all underwater) before returning to port to switch crews and go out again.
While still stationed in Charleston, Jeff married Susan Allen, an Army nurse stationed at Fort Stewart, GA. Less than 2 months later, Sue received orders to report to Seoul, Korea for a one-year tour. Needless to say, not the best way to begin married life. Upon Sue’s return from Korea in August 1981, she left the Army so they could live together!
In November 1982, Jeff was sent to Saratoga Springs, NY for a two-year tour as an instructor at a Naval nuclear power training facility. They arrived in NY with no kids and left 28 months later with four of them, all under the age of two. Sue gave birth to two sets of twins within 19 months of each other!
Over the next couple of years, Jeff was the Navigator and Operations Officer on the USS Louisville (SSN 724) out of Groton, CT. Jeff and Sue managed to make two cross-country moves in less than a year, with Sue doing most of the heavy lifting, without Jeff and with the babies! We think Sue is an “uber-woman!”
Jeff reports that it was, “during my last year on the Louisville that the course of our lives was to really change.” They joined a Naval Academy classmate and his wife for a Bible study, and “Sue and I both came to believe that there really was a God, and we committed ourselves to following Him.”
Jeff clarifies, “This was a big deal to me. I was a nuclear submarine officer, driving the most complicated machine on the face of the earth under the world’s oceans, powered by a nuclear reactor and carrying nuclear weapons. I wasn’t looking for a psychological crutch, an interesting myth, or a pious philosophy. I wanted to know the truth and to live my life based on it. Jesus was either real and could be trusted with everything including my beloved wife and children or I wasn’t interested. We decided we were going to live like the Bible was true. This was the beginning of our new life, my second career.”
In 1990, the M/V Anastasis, the flagship of the Mercy Ships fleet, visited Groton where they lived. This huge hospital ship, operated by a Christian ministry, was manned by 350 volunteers from 25 countries who all paid for the privilege of being part of the ship’s ministry. Through this connection, Jeff decided to retire early, and as he says, “we stepped out in faith selling our house and almost all of our personal belongings, loading our four kids and everything we could carry into a big Chevy van and headed west to Mercy Ships’ base in Texas. We didn’t own a house, didn’t have a mortgage, and were free to go wherever God directed and do whatever He wanted us to do. It was an exhilarating time.”
They spent a year at the Mercy Ship’s training center, living in two dorm rooms with the four kids, and were next invited to go to Cape Town, South Africa to help start a Community Development school. Jeff and Sue staffed several missionary training schools there and traveled to Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique between them – all while raising their four active children.
They returned to Pensacola in the summer of 1997 because Sue’s father was dying of cancer. He died within weeks of their return and they have remained in Pensacola. Jeff felt called to teach and applied to several private schools. Although he was not hired by anybody, he signed up to be a substitute at a local Christian school. He subbed there once and several weeks later was called in to see the Board Director who asked if he wanted to become the school administrator, since the current administrator had just submitted his resignation. Jeff recalls being stunned by the offer, “It would be like you getting a tour of a submarine and then being asked if you wanted to be the commanding officer!” He reports, “I just trusted that it was God’s way of providing for me so I took the job and am now in my 14th year there.” All of their children graduated from this school.
Now, at 55, Jeff is a very active grandfather. One set of twins, Kevin and Lindsey, are 27 and the others, Devon and Dustin (both girls) are 25. They are all married and have spouses that Sue and Jeff just love. Although they may have thought the toddler stage was a challenge, it is doubtful they figured all three girls would get married within 16 months of each other and Kevin two years later!
Jeff and Sue have four grandchildren: Isaac (2 ½), Isaac’s siblings 18 month old TWINS -Jackson and Leah, and 6 month old Eli. They suspect there are more to come. When asked about the grandfather role, Jeff says, “I wasn’t really looking forward to being a grandfather. I was too young for that! Unlike Sue who couldn’t wait to be a grandmother! My favorite line is that the bad thing about being a grandfather is that you’re now married to a grandmother!” He adds, “The grandfather role did grow on me and I now enjoy it, especially now that they have their own personalities and we are able to do fun things with them.”
Although the various kids (and grandkids) have returned to live with them at times, they are mostly empty-nesters. Jeff says, “We do enjoy the peace and quiet and the ability to do most anything you want whenever you want. It’s like being a teenager again – only with money.”
When asked how they keep fit, Jeff shares, “Sue and I have both run for many years, starting in our college days. We joined a marathon training group 5 years ago and have never looked back. We run 3-4 times a week with a long run every Saturday in the company of our running group. After our Saturday long run, we all go out for breakfast. It’s as much a social thing as an athletic endeavor.”
“I try to keep my running/marathoning in proper perspective. I love to run and it’s my preferred method of stress relief. You can’t beat being 55 years old and still getting to go outside and play 3-4 times every week. That’s how I look at it. I have done 4-5 marathons in the last 5 years; Sue has done more that that. We’ve also done lots of 5km races, 10km, half-marathons, and have recently added trail runs through the woods and triathlons to our repertoire. We’re also getting ready to do our second team relay race where 9 of us run a 210 mile relay race through northern Georgia over 36 hours (including all through the night). That’s fun! We feel it keeps us physically fit and mentally prepared to take on the next exciting assignment that God gives us. I’m anxiously awaiting my orders to return to ministry in South Africa! We loved it there!”
Jeff’s Mom turned 80 earlier this month and “is very healthy and doing great.” His Dad started having Parkinson symptoms 4-5 years ago and spent the last 18 months of his life in a nursing home slowly losing the ability to do anything for himself. Jeff says, “It was hard to watch but he maintained his sense of humor through it all and the nurses loved him. The last 6 months were particularly hard since I could not understand what he was saying to me over the phone, so we didn’t communicate much.”
Jeff reports that as far as caregiving for parents, their bigger challenge is that “we are the only family Sue’s 89 year old mother has here in Pensacola. She has done well during the past 13 years since she lost her husband, and lives in her own condo. However, she is becoming increasingly frail, has more of a tendency to fall, and is getting forgetful. Sue’s six siblings are discussing now whether she should continue to drive. That decision will be hard on Sue’s mom and on us, as her care will fall on us. We have also been talking about whether she should move in with us. None of us really wants that, but it may become necessary. As my boss said today, ‘it takes a very brave soul to grow old’.”
The finale of our discussion was about that funny concept of retirement. Jeff shared, “I do not see myself ever retiring and then spending my days gardening or playing golf. That would be torture. I tell people I want to die of malaria in Africa. What I really mean is that I want to die when I still possess all my physical and mental faculties and doing God’s important work among people who haven’t been totally tainted by the secularism and materialism of the West.”
“My fondest memories are of my time in South Africa. We didn’t have much and we walked everywhere. However, we had wonderful friends that were all committed to sharing the love of Jesus with people who lived in very difficult circumstances. Jesus changes lives. I would like to be in the life-changing business. I have this dream/vision of my grandchildren coming to visit us in Africa, of spending the summer with us exploring Africa, and getting a taste of a wider world. That would be cool.”
As with many boomers, Jeff has navigated interesting twists and turns of life – and he’s not done yet. It seems he has quite a road ahead, which is likely to prove as interesting and challenging as the last 35 years. He is an inspiration and he seems to embody – living well never gets old.