On Wednesdays, Alicia Philipp packs up baskets of produce from an organic farm. Thursdays she delivers the produce and organic meat to people and businesses in Porto, Portugal. A careful planner all her life, she planned nothing about her life now. And she couldn’t be happier.
For almost 40 years Alicia led the Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta, growing the grant-making organization from assets of $7 million to one with over $1 billion. Under her leadership CFGA helped fund more than 10,000 non-profits a year, awarding more than $125 million annually in recent years.
A highly respected community leader, Alicia was on several most influential leaders lists. Other prominent Atlantans have described her as “intense, loyal with a big old heart, and fiercely competitive.”
Like everything else in her life, this driven CEO planned her retirement, scheduled for the summer of 2020. “I wanted to get an A+ on my retirement,” she said. “I interviewed people for two years about what they did right and what they got wrong. I knew I wanted to challenge myself mentally and physically and keep learning new things.”
She studied Spanish for 12 years. Her plan was to go to Guatemala where she would help develop economic opportunities for women.
That all changed in early 2020. Alicia went to Portugal in March to visit her daughter, Alice Piontek, who lives there with her husband, Filipe Antunes, and their son.
After graduating college, Alice traveled and worked on organic farms through the Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) organization. She met her husband on his family farm, they married and now run Quinta da Comenda together, which also has accommodations for guests.
Alicia planned to return to Atlanta for her final months as CEO. But we know what happened in March 2020. The world shut down. “I could not get home,” Alicia said. “And my ex-husband, who had planned on coming to visit after me, came early and we were stuck together for 10 weeks. We made it work; fortunately it’s a big farm.”
She stayed on the farm, still running CFGA virtually, with a shifted time schedule due to the time difference.
Flights began operating again in late spring, but one leg of her flights back to Atlanta kept getting cancelled. Finally, in June she had flights to return.
“A few days prior to my flight, I started thinking about it. Why am I going home?” she said. “I could just stay here.”
So she did. She was able to apply for official residency under a family reunification program, bought a car and qualified for public health insurance.
Her daughter and son-in-law helped her find an apartment in Viseu, 20 minutes from their farm. “I have a great, very affordable apartment on the third floor with a huge porch overlooking a pedestrian street.”
Although Portugal has been on lockdown a lot of the last year, Alicia has been busy with virtual yoga classes, learning Portuguese and making friends through a Facebook group for expats in Porto.
“I’ve loved meeting other people who have moved here,” she said. “It’s endlessly fascinating to me why people come. Some brave people have picked up and moved without ever having been here.”
She finds it an affordable, reasonable place to live. “After the life I’ve had, with all the pressure of work in the United States, it’s nice to be in a place that’s so calm and peaceful. Portugal reminds me of the United States in the 1970s without some of the angst.”
Then there was the matter of clothes and the life she left in Atlanta. “All I had was one suitcase with clothes suitable for farming,” she said. She bought new clothes and has a friend of her daughter’s staying in her condo in Decatur, a suburb of Atlanta. “Living a simple life is easier when you start with nothing,” she said.
She misses her friends but sees them on Zoom. “People ask me when I’m coming home. I may return to Atlanta for a visit in the fall. I yearn for the baked goods at Pastries A Go Go.”
Another big bonus of living in Portugal is being there when her daughter had a second child, a little girl born in March. And spending so much time with her 4-year-old grandson, Manuel Antunes, who is fluent in English and Portuguese.
One benefit of the lockdown is that properties in Portugal offered special deals to residents. Alicia and her daughter visited Six Senses Douro Valley, a luxury resort overlooking River Douro. “It was my retirement gift to myself,” she said. “They offered deals at a fraction of the cost so we went and had a blast.”
Alicia is looking forward to traveling more when the lockdown ends and welcoming visitors from the United States, some assisted with their travel plans through Alice and Filipe’s company, Lusoland. They customize itineraries in Portugal, lead walking and biking tours, and help with expat relocation itineraries.
While Alicia gave up the title of CEO, she now has a new one: Assistant to the CEO of Ecos do Vale, the food delivery service her daughter runs. “My daughter tells me I am no longer the CEO and I’m on a need-to-know basis. It’s been awesomely fun and we have a great time.”
As for the grade on her retirement? “I think I’ve earned an A+. The pandemic was a wild card. And I’ve learned to be more spontaneous.”