Tom Griffiths, director of aquatics at Penn State University, will leave his position at the State College, Pa., institution after 23 years. He is also the president of advocacy organization Aquatic Safety Research Group.
“I was spread too thin and was away from Penn State so much,” he said of his decision to retire. “Now I will be able to focus on traveling for my advocacy group, investigating accidents and drownings and teaching seminars,” in both the residential and commercial arms of the industry.
While this marks the end of Griffiths’ “day job,” as he calls it, his work with water is far from over.
“People don’t realize how quickly and silently a drowning can happen,” whether at a commercial aquatics facility or in a backyard swimming pool, said Griffiths. “We need to educate them.”
An author of many water-related books, such as the Complete Swimming Pool Reference and Better Beaches for the National Recreation and Park Association, Griffiths is planning continue his work in industry education and improved water safety technology. Both areas will be a major focus of his post-retirement career.
Griffiths concerns for water safety stretch across the board. Among other notable achievements in his long aquatics career he spearheaded the five-minute scanning strategy, which helps lifeguards assess danger in the pool.
He is currently writing his seventh book, Safe Swimming Beaches, with Champaign, Ill.-based Human Kinetics, which provides aquatics and fitness education resources. He hopes to release it next spring.
“Writing and publishing a book is like the birth of a baby,” he said.
Griffiths himself was just a youngster when he got started in commercial aquatics. He began helping the maintenance at a New Jersey lake around age 10, and went on to become a lifeguard.
He will officially retire on August 25 — his 60th birthday — and until then he is working closely with Penn State to ensure a smooth transition.
“They have been really great about working closely with me, going over everything I do with a fine-tooth comb to put together a list of qualifications my replacement should have,” Griffiths said.
There is also the possibility that he will stay on as a consultant for the school to help train the new director. “Everyone has a time [to retire] and I don’t mind stepping down and helping someone else take control.”