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  • My grandmother used to watch the obituary column in the newspaper. When somebody she once knew passed away, she always made it a point to acknowledge the passing. If she could, she would attend the services. Make sure the family knew what this person had meant in her life, and the lives of others she knew. It was important to make sure someone knew the difference this person had made in other lives.

    I don’t read the obituaries everyday – it’s just not something I do. But, I do believe I have inherited Grandma’s sensibility about making sure a life’s passing is acknowledged, and making sure that those closest to the deceased know what their loved one meant to me, and to others who couldn’t find the time to acknowledge the same.

    It’s important. I take it as a solemn duty. This person lived, and their life counted for something.

    Walt was there on my first day in this new job. 27 ½ years ago. Having been through 17 jobs in 4 years at that point, I had no reason to believe I’d still be in this one 27 ½ years later, but here I am. Walt is probably one of the reasons that I am.

    He knew why we were here. This was more than just another job. We had a role to play. Doing it right could make the difference between life and death, between illness and health. He took it seriously. There was no bullshit about Walt when it came to that.

    But, he did have a great sense of humor, and a contagious laugh, the way some people do. When they laugh, it’s an invitation to join in – it’s a laugh at the weird twists and turns of life, a laugh that was just waiting for the chance to be released. People like this can make all the difference in a workplace. They make the difference between a place being a dull, boring job and being a place that makes a difference. Walt made a difference, and was one of those who helped me realize that I could stay, and make a difference too.

    It was hard to take yourself too seriously around Walt, because it seemed that as soon as you did, he was there to poke fun at you. Not at your expense. Just in a leveling kind of way. A way of saying, “Hey, man, knock it off – we’re in this thing together, and while we’re at it, we’re going to have a little fun”. Sometimes I wasn’t so sure whether he was laughing at me, or with me. This was when I was taking myself entirely too seriously. He loved to make the comment – “must be somebody important coming in today. I see Peter has on his best suit”. It would take the phony out of my trying to be somebody important.

    It’s good to have people like Walt around. He reminded me a lot of Dad. He commanded that kind of a presence, that kind of respect. He was a true leader, in a fatherly kind of way.

    Oh, he had his moments. He had his boiling points. He could get all self-righteous on you. Probably another reason he reminded me of Dad. I’ll never forget the time, back in the early days, when we had the office football pool, before that sort of thing got banned from the workplace. It was just a friendly little office pool. Pick your winners and losers, whoever got the most winners right won the pool. I would always play 3. There were no rules saying you couldn’t. You pay, you play. I played one for me, one for Jonathon, and one for Oliver (my dog). The week that Oliver won the pool, he got irrationally mad, and quit the pool in a huff. He did not do it quietly. Soon thereafter, the pool folded up. That was Walt. Yes, he was human too.

    But, he made a difference in this life, and in the lives of many others. His work may well have saved hundreds of lives – we’ll never know, because we’re in the business of prevention. If we do our job well, people don’t get sick, don’t die. Walt set a high bar for excellence, and expected the same for those around him.

    Even after he retired, he made a difference. After Katrina and Rita, when the agency needed someone to help folks out in the ravaged states, Walt volunteered to drive all over Texas and Louisiana, bringing needed relief and ensuring that folks knew what they should and shouldn’t be doing. We just missed each other in San Antonio, but we waved to each other, virtually, on the internet.

    The last time I saw him was at Harry’s retirement party up in Philly a couple years ago. Still lighting up the room with his warmth and laughter, and stories. Lord, he could spin a tale. World class.

    I’ll be driving up to Delaware Saturday morning to pay my respects. Where else would I be? What’s more important? Like Grandma, I need to be there to pay my respects to a life well-lived.

    Here’s to you, Walt. You were one of the giants upon whose shoulders I climbed, to see over the wall of confusion and illusion. You made a difference, my friend!

    Happy Trails To You.
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