At the seasoned age of 76, long after most people have retired, Earl Byrum works 40 hours a week, never thinking about retirement.

Byrum, a deputy sheriff in Arlington County, says he is too busy to think about "such nonsense."

"Retirement. The only time I ever thought about retirement was when I was too young to qualify," said Byrum.

Byrum did retire from the federal government after working 45 years in the Security and Exchange Commission as a printer, but that was because it was time to do something different.

"I worked in the federal government for 45 years," Byrum said, "and that's long enough on any job."

So Byrum, who already had worked as a volunteer auxiliary police officer in Arlington for 30 years, decided to join the ranks of the Arlington County sheriff's office as a deputy.

Byrum said he began part time as a bailiff, taking care of the courtrooms, but soon found himself working 40 hours a week doing his "specialty" -- transporting.

"Everybody does some things better than others, and my specialty around here is transporting," said Byrum. He is responsible for taking patients from mental institutions or prisoners back and forth between the courthouse and other institutions in Virginia.

With the appearance and energy of a man 15 years his junior, Byrum swings his right leg over the arm of his chair and boasts about the unique advantages that come with the responsibilities of his job.

"I realize that I'm older than the other guys around here and believe me I use that to my every advantage," said Byrum.

His advantage is not just the wisdom that comes with the years of experience but also the respect he receives from the prisoners and mental patients he deals with every day.

"Most of the patients and prisoners that come through here -- both young and old -- don't mind cooperating with an older person; it's human nature," he explained.

Byrum has learned over the years to tolerate verbal abuse, a quality he insists is vital in his job.

"Some of the language these prisoners use is enough to put someone in a fit, but not me," he said.

"I learned to take verbal abuse when I was a kid. I wore glasses when I was 4 years old and back then, in 1912, it was an odd thing to see a kid in glasses," said Byrum, looking to the ceiling as if searching for some memory long misplaced.

" 'Four eyes' and 'cocky boy' was what they use to call me . . . it hurt then all right, but the older I got the less it hurt.

"Now, after all these years they prisoners can say whatever they like, it don't bother me one bit.

"People I like," he said. "Even the prisoners I transport. I could hate what they've done but yet when they're under my care it makes no difference in my personal feeling.

"One of the first things that strikes you about Earl is that he is not 76 years old -- or at least the way we stereotype people his age," said Arlington Sheriff Jim Gondles. "Some deputies act real stiff and can't communicate with the mental patients, but Earl is good, real good. His dedication and talent set an example for our other deputies."

Byrum says one of his hobbies -- reading science magazines about the year 2000 -- helps him develop fresh new ideas and possible plans.

"Oh, I guess I'll quit working when I can no longer do my job as well as the next man, and then maybe I'll look forward to riding one of those new cars they are designing for the turn of the century . . . . Why not, I'll only be 92, that's not even 100."