I went to a funeral today of a friend and former colleague. Jeff was a very interesting fellow. Although he did not hold any formal degrees from a college or university, he was one of the brightest people I’ve ever known.
I was part of an interview committee that hired him to work at the 911 center back in 1989. (I was in management there at the time). He worked as one of our police dispatchers, and was a real blessing because he had previous experience as a dispatcher at another agency. Our other new hires had no experience, and would require months of training before they could be entrusted with the lives of police officers on the radio.
Soon after beginning work for us, Jeff was full of suggestions. His suggestions were good ones, even if we weren’t able to implement all of them right away.
I noticed that Jeff had a particular talent for understanding computers and technical things, like how our two-way radios worked, and how our telephone system worked. He was able to pick up on technical things exceptionally fast. Eventually I was able to arrange Jeff's schedule to spend much of his time working on technical issues with me. Later, after I left the 911 center for a more sane job, a new position was created for Jeff to work full time as an assistant to the Information Systems director.
There were many times, when Jeff would literally carry the 911 center on his back to keep it running. When a system would go down, or when the center moved to a new building, he ensured that everything would stay up and running, and that there would be no disruption of 911 services to the general public.
Jeff was so dedicated to the service he provided to the 911 center, that his whole life was wrapped up in it. Nearly all of his friends and associates were a part of his “work family”. I was much the same way when I worked there. It wasn’t until I met and married my wife, that I started to develop a life outside of my job. I suppose I would have been much like Jeff, had my beloved wife not come along and stole my heart away.
Jeff continued working at the 911 center, until last Tuesday (May 23, 2006), when he passed away from colon cancer. He was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer in December of 2004, at the age of 40. He has been fighting a valiant battle for the last 2 ½ years. He worked right up until the end, and some of his coworkers were there at his bedside when he passed away.
Although Jeff wasn’t much of a church-going guy, he had a wonderful way with people. Jeff was always vibrant and vivacious in his interactions with others. He was a loyal friend. He looked out after the needs of others. He was a guy you wanted on your team when you were in a clutch situation. All through his illness, and its inevitable ending, he never whined or complained about his circumstances. He endured his lot with grace, poise and a little humor as well.
Today at the funeral, there were many uniformed police officers and firefighters in attendance. There were many of his co-workers from the 911 center as well. Even some old-timers that worked there when I was there. It was nice to be able to renew our acquaintnace, although it would have been better to meet under more pleasant circumstances.
Jeff will be sorely missed. He was a true public servant through and through. The public will also miss him, whether they know it or not. Jeff was one of the many who serve the community behind the scenes and out of the limelight. They make our communities a better and safer place to live. Such public servants rarely, if ever receive public recognition for their efforts.
I wish Jeff, his family, and loved ones well. I also wish the employees of the 911 center well. May they all find peace and hope in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.