EASTON | Ray J. Little had job offers from two federal agencies after passing the civil service examination.
He initially planned to work for the Internal Revenue Service, but a friend steered him to his second choice -- Social Security.
At the IRS, the friend told Little, his job involved trying to collect money from people.
"That's no fun," the friend told Little. "With Social Security, you have people coming in, and you're trying to give them money, and it's a lot easier."
So Little took a position with the Social Security Administration -- in 1960.
The Palmer Township resident will retire today after 46 years. He spent much of that time working out of Easton, acting as the unofficial face in this area of the agency that is charged with disbursing benefits to millions of Americans, including thousands in Northampton, Warren and Hunterdon counties.
Little's job -- public affairs representative or field specialist -- included duties such as speaking before area groups and generally getting the word out about Social Security programs.
Grateful representatives of area agencies say Little went beyond the call of duty.
"We share many clients, so he's been helpful," said Elsie Luciano, executive director of Easton Area Neighborhood Centers Inc.
"He did so much and helped so many people that we know of in our chamber," added Bill Brackbill, former president of the Nazareth Area Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber recognized Little in May 2005 when the agency opened its Downtown Easton office at 134 S. Fourth St.
Little's job essentially will be eliminated, according to John J. McCann, the Easton office's district manager, who hopes to provide fill-in speakers either through his office or through regional public affairs officials.
The retiring Little believes face-to-face contact helps beneficiaries, but it's something he said Social Security is doing less of in recent years, with the agency providing a toll-free telephone number and Internet access.
Little said he has helped some people receive benefits earlier than they realized. Some widows still send him Christmas cards every year, he said, after they learned from him years earlier about being able to apply for benefits sooner than they had thought.
"You can't file for Social Security until you're 62," said Little, repeating an oft-cited government phrase. "But a widow can file as early as age 60."
"He does a tremendous job developing relationships with people," said Brackbill of Little. "You call Ray and you might get his answering machine, but you get an answer back He's always quick to respond."
For now, Little said he has no definite retirement plans. He intends to take a few months to relax then explore possible part-time offers from area agencies to become a resource for Social Security.
He'll also be able to fine tune his monthly benefit check, though Little added a surprising twist: Part of the reason he took retirement now is that he would lose money by working full-time.
It's in part because of cuts approved by the government in recent years involving government workers who held other positions for which they could collect Social Security, and to help ensure Social Security's solvency.
"Really, I'm going to miss it, because I enjoy it," said Little, who participated in some lighthearted banter with McCann while the two looked at old photographs and articles about Little's early career.
"I enjoy dealing with people. That's why of all the jobs I've had the best job as far as I'm concerned is the job I have now."
McCann, who has been Little's boss since 1999, said Little worked hard at chasing down fraud referrals and deciphering the Medicare Part D prescription drug program, which has been in effect more than one year.
"He also brought a lot of humor in the office," added McCann.
The impeccably dressed Little, who on this day sported a Social Security button on his jacket lapel, indeed was always quick with a quip.
"You wouldn't dare put my age in," he said when the question arose. "Just put down there good looking, intelligent and humble."