Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Thoughts from the Hall of Fame

Last week week was intriguing. Wednesday, I attended meetings in Tallahassee. Friday, I attended the 2017 Florida Workers' Compensation Hall of Fame induction dinner in Orlando. At the last dinner in 2016, I found myself seated between Richard Sicking and Al Frierson. Either of these two brings a wealth of experience and personality to a conversation, but to sit between these icons was amazing. More on last year's gathering is here. I was disappointed that each was absent from the 2017 gathering. 

It was an honor to be present as three new inductees were added to the rolls. It was particularly noteworthy that one was a sitting Florida Judge and another was a well-known former Judge. Judge Robert Dietz has spent a lifetime in workers' compensation, as a defense attorney, mediator and now as Judge in the Melbourne District. Former Orlando Judge Richard Thompson, now an executive with Zenith Insurance, has likewise dedicated his career to this field. The third inductee was Michele Adams. She is Vice-President of Risk Management Services at Walt Disney World Resort, and is an icon of the workers' compensation world. 

Their accolades and accomplishments were mentioned by Hall of Fame President Steven Rissman. The fact is that there is simply too much to say about each inductee. If Mr. Rissman had attempted to list all of their achievements, we would still be sitting there listening. The inductees are involved and engaged in the world of workers' compensation, and their communities. I have heard each speak about workers' compensation, risk, and the challenges of this system, designed to serve employees and employers. Each is truly deserving of this recognition and appreciation.

It was an incredible gathering. To my left sat Judge Dietz, then Judge Lazzara, Mary Ann Stiles, Dan Hightower, Glen Weiland, Tom Koval, G.W. Jacobs, Jim McConnaughhay, Steven Rissman, Karen Gilmartin, Michele Adams, George Kagan, Bob O'Halloran, Judge Rosen, J. David Parrish, Ray Malca, Gerald Rosenthal, Tom Conroy, Richard Thompson, and Marc Salm. 

It was disappointing that some could not attend. I particularly missed seeing Al Frierson, William Douglas, Rosemary Eure, Joe Keene, Alan Kuker, Jack Langdon, Claude Revels, and Richard Sicking.  There were others missing, each of great import. But these in particular struck me. 

Left to right Richard Thompson, yours truly, Steve Rosen, John Lazzara and Robert Deitz
Photo by George Kagan, all rights reserved. 

There were stories told. A humorous anecdote of two young lawyers, George Kagan and Gerald Rosenthal, driving about California in search of their deposition brought laughs. In a day before GPS and smartphones, these intrepid adversaries set forth in unfamiliar territory in a rented Ford Fiesta, using a tool they called a "map." This, apparently, was a diagram of topography, roads, and towns, printed on paper and commonly sold at gas stations. According to the story, it was common for a passenger to read (or misread) this "map" and provide directions for the driver. 

There were toasts and recognitions. There were expressions of differing recollections and perceptions. In a group like this, there is no shortage of experiences and achievements. It is a group within which there are many perspectives on where Florida workers' compensation has been. I enjoy listening to the various recollections of history and the prognostications on where it may head next. 

Where it may head next is a subject that has been bantered in recent months as the Florida Legislature has geared up for its annual session. It astounds me how a state of Florida's size and complexity can meet its many challenges with a part-time legislature (I know the members and staff work on issues all year, but the regular session itself is a mere 60 days each year). Last week, workers' compensation was the topic of discussion in a House Commerce Committee Subcommittee (Insurance and Banking) workshop. That meeting began at 3:30 in the afternoon and ran past 6:00. Perhaps the long hours could be the secret of getting so much done in a short session?

Time will tell whether 2017 brings legislative change. Bills have been introduced. Committees will meet. When the session begins, I may try to summarize some of those bills here. 

Returning to Friday, I recalled a quote attributed to John Kennedy in 1962. He was hosting a White House dinner for Nobel Prize winners. He said "I think that this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone." I reminisce about the talent and intellect gathered around a table in Orlando last week and have similar thoughts about those gathered. These are the names upon which Florida workers' compensation has been built. 

In that regard, I am annually humbled by being included in this group. A sentiment very aptly addressed by another member in a post-dinner email to the group, who said "I still feel I belong at the 'kid's table' with this group." It is a gathering of iconic personalities. Each is larger than life in some way (just ask us). I found myself contemplating (on a long ride home after dinner), who will be the iconic leaders of tomorrow? Who has begun the journey that will end with a recognition that they devoted a career to Florida workers' compensation? 

I am certain that they are out there. They are representing clients, running programs, innovating, reforming, advocating, writing, speaking, explaining, and building. They have vision for the future of workers' compensation. Certainly, they do not all share an identical vision, nor do those who shared dinner last week. But, they have vision for the future. 

Perhaps the real worth of those honored is that they have pursued competing visions, fraught with disagreement and differences. But, they have done so without being disagreeable (well, "too disagreeable" perhaps). Sure, I am am certain there have been hurt feelings along the way, and occasions of distrust and even anger. But, they find themselves able to gather around a table for dinner and remembrances are met with laughter. Frustrations and failures are acknowledged, but successes are celebrated. 

It is important for professionals to understand that this is the way things should be, and can be. There can be accomplishment in this system. There are a great many good people in this system. We will not always agree unanimously on the "how," "what," "when" or "why" of particular aspects of workers' compensation. We may each suffer individual defeats, disappointments and frustrations from workers' compensation. But, it is a noble effort in which we all find ourselves. 

We are affecting people's lives. We are responsible as stewards of an incredibly critical system. I am hopeful that there are young people reading this. In their daily struggles with this system, I am hopeful that they are also encouraged by the rewards of engagement in this system and helping those who it touches. 

I am grateful for the Hall members. But, I am more grateful for the future members out there, working to move this great endeavor forward, whatever that may mean to them individually. Through their thoughts, ideas, and efforts, we will see workers' compensation evolve and develop as we fade and the next generation steps forward to lead.

Here's looking forward to next January and the opportunity to do it all again. 

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