This post is about remembrance, and perhaps celebrations.
The end of September brought two messages to my inbox. I found each poignant, and somewhat disturbing. One was a retirement and the other more permanent.
Years ago, I traveled from Pensacola one week and heard cases in Miami, likely sometime in 2007 or 2008. I walked into that district office and presented my identification, explaining to the guard the point in purpose of my trip. He welcomed me effusively, and graciously. He then looked at me quite seriously and said “I’m gonna have to look in your bag."
That was the first time that I remember meeting meeting Hugo. I had many opportunities there after to be in his presence. Hugo provided the primary security for the Miami district office for almost 20 years (his goodbye note says 19 years, 279 days to be exact). On each of my visits, he was welcoming and gracious, but consistently made every effort to search my computer bag. I’ll never be certain if he was serious about that or not. I got the persistent impression that he had a good nature, some humor, but he meant business when it came to protecting us all.
In his departure, he described his service there as an "honor and privilege," described that group of coworkers as "family." Day in and day out, for twenty years, he provided security, cordiality, humor and more to that office and those it served. He was a foundational element of the Miami practice, knew everyone, and became part of the fabric of the practice.
I am somewhat sad to announce his retirement. I say somewhat because I find myself also excited for him as he moves into the next chapter of his life. Certainly, when you reach that moment, there’s perhaps no greater reward than the ability to turn the page and begin anew. Despite that, I will miss him, As so many of you will. Hugo was a consistent presence and was ready with a smile. I am certain that both the OJCC and the Miami public will miss him. I wish him the very best in his retirement and we are all grateful for that 20 years.
On a much sadder note came news reminding me of the halcyon days of my early legal experience in Jacksonville. I’ve had a great many lawyers in Jacksonville, and thereafter across the state, influence me in so many ways. I have had innumerable mentors, they (likely you) continue to affect me so profoundly. I often take a fair amount of entertainment from the fact that none of you seem to realize how much I depend upon you, learn from you, benefit from your comments, admire your professionalism, and so often revel in your spirit. You really should appreciate yourselves more.
In September, Douglass Myers passed from our number after almost 50 years of practice in the Jacksonville community. I do not ever recall him as a carefree person. He had challenges from my earliest recollections. His obituary noted that he had suffered "a long illness," which is consistent with my recall. I also do not recall him in private practice, but only as the workers' compensation attorney at the Office of General Counsel. But, I am sure that I only came to know him later in his life. Mr. Myers was 77 when he passed. Certainly by the time I met him he was a seasoned practitioner of more than 20 years, and I was new to the law, the workers' compensation community, and the town.
He was known and respected, by lawyers, mediators, and adjudicators. Mr. Myers seemed perpetually ready with a kind word. He commiserated with his peers in an easy and comfortable way. It was easy to speak with him and he was a ready ear. I admired his perseverance and aplomb. It seems lawyers tend to know the opposite side of their practice better than the lawyers on their own (defense lawyers work more with and therefore tend to know claimant's lawyers more, and vice-versa). Despite that, it seemed everyone knew Mr. Myers.
I never knew of Mr. Myers' history, his education and path to being an attorney. Our conversations were about workers' compensation. Until reading his obituary, I was unaware of details of his service in the Air Force, and the dangerous tasks he undertook decades ago, a world away, in Viet Nam. How often do we fail to express our gratitude for the service and sacrifice of those who serve? In a broader context, how often do we take time in our busy days to simply tell someone that their presence has mattered to us?
What I was aware of was his involvement in the Jacksonville legal community, Bar, and later the E. Robert Williams Inn of Court. Mr. Myers was engaged in the workers' compensation community, dedicated, and professional. He was quick with a smile and a kind word. Through scholarship, hard work, and engaging personality, he was a successful advocate for his client.
In 2011 the Inn awarded him the John J. Schickel Professionalism Award. That honor is a significant recognition from a community of peers. I was not there, but I can picture him demurring and deflecting. In my experiences with him, he was persistently a humble and gracious professional. I suspect that when he was told of that award, he likely mentioned others whom he thought deserved it more. He was persistently supportive of, praising, others. Mr. Myers, in my experience, was persistently and consummately, the professional.
As we become long in the tooth, we may tend to view the world differently. Youth, vigor, enthusiasm, and more may sometimes refract, but as we age our perspectives seemingly become clearer. As I reminisce this morning, I am grateful to have known both Mr. Myers and Hugo. They were each positive members of the workers' compensation community, in different roles and geography. I could have said that to each of them, found time to be more grateful for their presence in those busy days. I wish Hugo the best in his next chapter. And, I wish the best for Mr. Myers' grieving family, and many friends and colleagues.
Each of them contributed to a community that is workers' compensation. Each of them will be missed. I encourage reflection on that this morning. If you have a moment to share with someone that you appreciate their involvement in this community of ours, I encourage you to do so. So many that I know are lately reaching that retirement moment, and too many are passing on. Though it seems a banality, life is short. Tell someone today that their presence, kindness, intellect, humor, professionalism, or otherwise is noted, appreciate, and valued. Simply stated, you never know when your chances may expire to communicate such thoughts.