Shining Light

JIM BRAINERD’S POST-RETIREMENT gig takes him to the end of the earth — literally — as a National Park Service volunteer at the Point Bonita Lighthouse and Marin Headlands Visitor Center. The 74-year-old greets visitors, guides the nervous across the 156-foot bridge that hangs 124 feet above the ocean between a sheer cliff and the 138-year-old lighthouse, and pitches in on cleaning as needed. When did you start? I’ve been here 16 years. Before you retired? I worked in the family trucking business and then at Big 4 Rents in Corte Madera. I was a part-time commercial fisherman and a volunteer fireman in Mill Valley. What’s your schedule now? Monday, I do visitors’ center in the morning, lighthouse in the afternoon. Tuesday, I have competitive archery. Wednesdays, I’m in the visitors’ center. Thursdays, I have an art class. Friday, I am arm candy for the missus. And Saturday I coach a Special Olympics softball team. Is it hard to become a volunteer? It’s really easy. They train you and only require eight hours a month. You have a choice of what you want to do — work a desk, roads and trails, lighthouse, a nursery or whatever. Is there a need? Yes. When I started here there were about 75 of us and now we’re down to about 25 here in Marin County — about 12 active — and we’re all getting up there in the golden years. It’s a good system, a wonderful place to hang your hat. What do you like most about doing this? I’m an outside person. I’m not an inside person. I get nervous on the couch. If it’s raining, I go around the house looking for leaks. My wife and I have been married for 54 years and she tells me, “Do something.” So, this is my do something. What else? I like meeting the people. I get postcards for Christmas and for my birthday. I’ve got friends in Paris and Denmark and Russia who I’ve met through here. Met any famous people? Peter Coyote came out a couple of times. Phil Frank, the guy who wrote Farley. Carlos Santana. When they’re here on their leisure time, I leave them alone. They didn’t come here to visit you. Exactly. Has your wife visited? She has. She’s of Danish heritage and she likes the sea, but she’s not an outside person. Her idea of tent camping is the Fairmont Hotel.