Sunday, March 6, 2016

Service for my friend

On Friday we went to the commemorative service for our friend, John T.D. Wood, who died a few days ago after a long illness. I don't know if you can say a service was good - because it was very sad - but it was like John. Calm, thoughtful and full of love.

John hired me for my first job in the public service twenty years ago when he was Deputy Ombudsman. I had no idea how unusual it was to get a boss who was (a) a nice person (b) given to wearing baggy linen pants and a panama hat to the office (c) happy to invite everyone to his house to listen to records till the wee hours of the morning (d) ruled by a moral sense that overrode all considerations of career and politics and compromise and (e) had a strong sense of humour and of the ridiculous.

John gave me a grounding in being a public servant in the "serve the public" sense; that there was an underlying concept of fair and right that should be applied to everything you did while you were being paid from the public purse, and that it was OK to look at things that had always existed and form your own view on whether they were good and bad. At the time I thought that was normal, but in hindsight (and after a bit more time in the mucky byways of government) it was an invaluable gift - that work was only worthwhile if it was, at some level, compatible with your principles. That just because things are done a certain way doesn't mean they have to stay that way. And while I can't say I'm at the forefront of improving the world, over the years, on many occasions, I have felt John's influence to make a choice to take a harder path, because it was the right thing to do.

John was only  my boss for a couple of years, before becoming a friend, with his wife and daughter. There were lots of stories on Friday much like mine - lives touched - which is wonderful, and very sad.