Standing near the Iwo Jima Memorial and Arlington National Cemeter, the Netherlands Carillon has one of the best views in the area, overlooking the Potomac River towards Washington, D.C..

Denice Blake and John Blackwell

Meet Denice and John

Retiring to the Great Southwest

Tucson, or "The Old Pueblo" as it’s commonly referred to, has been the perfect setting for Denice Blake and John Blackwell to live out their retirement dreams. Arizona’s warm climate and outdoor lifestyle allow these former Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) teachers to cycle, hike, and golf their way through each year—with plenty of tennis and bocce ball thrown in for good measure.

“We stumbled on Tucson in our various travels,” they say. Residents since 1999, they purchased a quaint fixer-upper in a historical neighborhood just a stone’s throw from the University of Arizona and spent that first year remodeling it.

But location was the only accidental element of their retirement. Both Denice and John lived frugally throughout their careers, with the end goal being a secure financial retirement. Their Virginia Retirement System and ERFC pensions, in addition to Social Security, are more than enough to provide them with a comfortable lifestyle. Having a regular income that's effectively and carefully managed by a retirement plan, allows them to invest their own savings aggressively.

With their investments, they’ve been able to give back to the community by funding the installation of a bocce ball court in their local park. They also support various causes through a charitable trust they set up. Denice raised $40k in one day for their neighborhood association through a neighborhood home tour she organized, and John serves as the association’s treasurer.

The bocce ball court in their local park.
The bocce ball court they funded for their local park
Denice enjoying the view on a Nile River cruise.

As with many retirees, travel has been a major highlight. Together they’ve snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef, hiked Machu Picchu, cruised the Nile and backwaters of Southern India, golfed in Scotland and Ireland, climbed glaciers in New Zealand, observed exotic animals in the Galapagos, bush-walked in South Africa, been wowed by the Terra Cotta soldiers in China and ruins in Angkor Wat, biked through mountains in Venezuela, and visited most of America’s national parks. While their traveling is slowing down, they’re not ready to call it quits just yet. January will find them on a cruise down the Amazon with a stop in French Guiana.

Retired since 1995, they recount their long careers with FCPS—dating back to 1968 for John and 1970 for Denice—with fondness. Denice enjoyed teaching every level of English, as well as film study and advanced placement. She began and ended her career at West Springfield High School (HS) but also taught one year each at Robinson Secondary School (SS) and Jefferson HS—with a few stints as a homebound teacher. John taught physical education at Frost Middle School (MS), Whittier MS, Longfellow MS, and Jeb Stuart HS. He was also a counselor at Hayfield SS and finished out his career with stints as the guidance director at Jefferson and Falls Church high schools.

For John, working for FCPS was like coming home. A native of Northern Virginia, he was a member of the first graduating class of Jeb Stuart HS in 1961.

The couple say they are forever grateful for spending their careers with FCPS and have found retirement to be everything they could have hoped for—and more!

Collage of John photos