CAO executive director announces retirement

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 16, 2003

Keith Molihan, executive director of the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization, submitted his retirement notice Tuesday during the monthly meeting of the CAO Board of Directors.

Molihan's retirement is effective Jan. 16, 2004. He has been with the CAO for 33 years. Molihan said he will open a management consulting firm after he leaves the CAO.

Molihan, 61, said he had been mulling over the decision to retire for the last two weeks. One of the motivating factors in his decision was the federal government's cutbacks in funding for programs for the poor and elderly, and President Bush's plans to spend billions of dollars in the Iraq effort. Molihan said he thinks that a shift in federal monies away from domestic programs will require changes on the part of service providers for the poor and elderly, and that CAO officials should start now to think about how to accomplish the task of helping the disadvantaged in the face of these federal changes.

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"The CAO needs to set a new direction, I think it needs to develop a five- or six-year plan. I think Iraq will continue to siphon off money and I think a plan needs to be developed to survive this," Molihan said. "I think it needs to be someone younger. When I sit down and think about (developing) a five-year plan, I think I'll be an old man, or at least at a point in my life where I want to do something else. I think the CAO needs someone young, with fresh ideas and who can lead the organization through this time. I hope they find someone with the enthusiasm I've had over the years."

Lawrence County Commission President George Patterson, who serves on the 15-member CAO board, said the search for a replacement will begin "right away."

"We're going to schedule a meeting to decide what we want to look for and how we want to go about it. We need to look and see if we have someone in-house who can do the job. Some of the people are within a year or two of retirement, so they may not be interested. If a majority of the board doesn't think we can find the person there, they we need to discuss avenues to take to come up with the right person."

Patterson said the retirement announcement came as a bit of a surprise, but said he understood why Molihan is retiring. Patterson said

he regretted seeing Molihan leave.

"A lot of people would think that someone in his position wouldn't care about other people, but that's not true. He does care. He's dedicated himself to the community and he cares about Lawrence County. And he has surrounded himself with quality people. That's the sign of a good leader."

Molihan said he first became committed to community involvement in the mid-1960s when the federal government was taking dramatic steps to help poor people climb up the economic ladder to success.

"Many of us got excited about the (federally declared) War on Poverty, and thought we could make a difference," Molihan said.

Molihan said one of his proudest accomplishments has been to provide health care to disadvantaged Lawrence Countians through the CAO's four clinics. He said approximately 25,000 people are active patients at those clinics.

He is also proud of programs that provide heating and home weatherization assistance to senior citizens, as well as a senior citizen's nutrition program that he said was started in Lawrence County and eventually copied nationwide.

Molihan said the CAO now administers $18 million and employs approximately 400 people in its various programs.

The CAO chief said his retirement will not include a rocking chair: he said he plans to open a management consulting firm at 420 Lawrence St. in a house he is renovating. His new firm will be called "Yankee Street Company."

"I'm not out of the picture, I'm just changing places," Molihan said. "This (retirement) will free me up to do things I've wanted to do for a long time."

Originally from Vinton County, Molihan graduated from then-Rio Grange

College in 1966 with a degree in Elementary Education. After working in education, he became involved in the fledgling CAO in Vinton County. He accepted the position of executive director of the local CAO in 1970.

He and his wife, Judy, have been married 41 years. They have one child and two grandchildren.