Early retirement fever is in the air.

State government, school districts and police departments report record numbers of employees turning in their office keys, collecting their gold watches and heading for the door. The enticing benefits of Utah's 1987 early retirement bill have prompted thousands of Utahns to opt for an early exit.People with years of vigor ahead of them have decided to get out of the work force while they still have the energy and health to enjoy their leisure.

But not everyone is beating an early retreat. And some of those who have stayed in the traces the longest are the happiest to be there. Herbert Maw can't comprehend the philosophy of early retirement. Paul Cannon hasn't seriously considered it. Vera Polhman tried retirement for a few years and was thrilled to get back to work.

Maw, 95, is closing his law office this month - 30 years after most lawyers turn their attention to full-time golf. But unlike Utah's thousands of early retirees, he's closing the office door with regret. A stroke last fall has forced Utah's former governor to slow down a bit. That means shutting down his law practice. But that's all he's shutting down.

He's not giving up his extensive exercise program, or his reading program or one whit of his zest for life.

"I never found anyone who quit at 65 if he was able to work who found very much happiness if he didn't work. So I decided to keep working," he said.

Pohlman, 88, is also calling it quits this month. She has put her Murray business, Grandma Vera's Gift Shop, up for sale. She turns 89 in a few months and she's decided its time to face the realities of her age, she said.

She doesn't think she has the energy to face another busy Christmas season. But she, too, is leaving the work force sadly.

She retired from her federal job when she was 70. Anxious to be busy, she took a job with an educational consulting firm. At 72, she opened a gift shop with her daughter. When Pohlman was 80, she bought her daughter out.

"This has been my retirement entertainment," she said, proudly surveying row after row of knickknacks. The shop kept her from becoming lonely and old.

"Look, dear, I hear my friends - what few are still alive - and their friends complain all the time about the lack of attention, aches and pains - everything. I don't want to be one of those."

So she became a successful businesswoman instead.

At 87, Paul Cannon is the youngest of the trio. He's too young to retire, he said. He isn't planning to call it quits for another two years. He spends six hours a day on his law practice. He's also working on his first book.

Cannon has finished the first 50 pages of his book on economic philosophy. The book challenges the current economic theory that spawned a hefty federal deficit.

Most people would say 85 is too late to start a writing career. That thought didn't occur to Cannon. Nor Maw. Maw published his first book when he was 85. He published his second when he was 90. And he won't say that he's done.

"I may just get an inspiration and write another. I have to be doing something or I'll pass out."

That refusal to see age as a limitation is a common attitude among the three. It honestly never occurs to them that getting old means slowing down, and slowing down means never getting to some of your dreams.

Each of the three is filled with plans for the future.

"I have a lot of things I keep wanting to do that I can't seem to find time for," Pohlman said.

Maw believes his key to mental zest lies in physical fitness. When he practiced law downtown, he walked at least 21/2 miles a day. Despite a stroke last fall, he tries to keep the practice up - walking briskly in a circle through the hall and parlor of his home several times a day and striding through Sugarhouse Park every chance he gets.

He also lifts weights and rides a stationary bicycle every day.

"Usually people who begin losing their mental sharpness stop their activity first. Keep active physically and you'll do all right," he advised.

Cannon concurs. At a time in life when most older people go gingerly down a flight of stairs, terrified of falling and breaking bones grown brittle with age, Cannon takes to the ski slopes.

He took up snow skiing when he was 77.

"The first year is just work," he said. "But I stuck with it. I'm not a great skier, and never will be. But I'm having fun."

He's philosophical about tumbles.

"I went all this last winter without falling. But even the best skiers fall sometimes."

Further proof of Cannon's disregard for tumbles is found in his summer sport - horseback riding. Cannon keeps a horse in Draper, and he rides two or three times a week during warm weather, roaming the foothills of Draper. He also swims several times a week at the YMCA.

While Utah's early retirees dot the golfing greens this summer, Cannon will be astride his horse, Maw will be lifting weights and Pohlman will be toiling among her roses.

Their lives reflect the advice poet Dylan Thomas gave his father in one of his most famous poems:

"Do not go gentle into that good night.

Old age should burn and rave at the close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light."