On the first day of the rest of his life, Tony Popp woke up with a stuffy nose and sinus congestion.
Instead of reaching for the phone Monday morning, he rolled over and went back to sleep.
“It was kind of nice because I didn’t have to call in sick,” Popp said.
Popp worked his last day as deputy public affairs officer at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island last week, ending a career in federal service that spanned 43 years.
The past 32 of those years were spent at NAS Whidbey Island, where he worked for 14 different commanding officers.
Four were present for Popp’s farewell luncheon April 25 at the Chief Petty Officers’ Club, where Capt. Geoff Moore, the base’s current CO, presented Popp with the Navy’s Meritorious Civilian Service Award, which recognizes contributions resulting in high value to the Navy.
“I was just overcome,” Popp said of the gathering in his honor.
Just a day earlier, Popp arrived in his office in Building 385 at Ault Field and started coming to grips with the reality that his 39 years of civil service connected to the military was about to end.
He started out in the military himself, serving four years in the Air Force at Travis Air Force Base, near Fairfield, Calif.
But since then, it’s been all civil service, working in public affairs for the U.S. Navy.
“It’s going to be weird,” he said, sitting at his desk during his final week. “This has been my home for 32 years.”
Oak Harbor will remain home for Popp, who plans to catch his breath and then tackle a few small projects around his Oak Harbor residence.
It’ll be a different pace than what he was used to at NAS Whidbey, where he spent his first 15 years working for the base newspaper, The Crosswind, which was published once a week.
Since 2000, he’s served as deputy public affairs officer. In that capacity, he still wrote news stories and took photographs but focused more on overseeing the tour program.
He set up about 50 base tours a year, which involved about 2,000 visitors.
Originally from Buffalo, N.Y., Popp grew up an “Air Force brat” and traveled all over the world.
After his own stint in the military, he still wanted to stay connected and started out in civil service with public affairs at the Naval Weapons Station in Concord, Calif., in 1979.
“I see myself as a people person,” Popp said. “When you work in public affairs, my goal was always to promote our sailors, our federal workers at whatever base I was working at — highlight what they do and what the base does in the best possible light.
“I think I’ve achieved that.”
Popp got a surprise email a few years ago from a F/A-18 Hornet pilot who attended one of his tours when he was younger. He thanked Popp.
“It was so unexpected,” Popp said. “What we do here at Whidbey providing tours, we’re shaping young men and women for our future.
“And that’s important.”