The Junction
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The Junction

Conversation with My Wife (191)

My Wife, the CPO

ME: I need an illustration for the story. DEB: What about that photo of me in that lodge hat, or whatever? That’s kind of nautical, right? (photo by author of wife trying on a hat in a flea market)

I poke my head into her closet, where Deb is hanging up stuff while getting ready for bed.

ME: You, m’lady, are a chief.

She pantomimes an indigenous tribal leader while giving me a questioning look.

ME: No no, like a Navy chief. Chief petty officer. CPO. The ones who get stuff done.

Backing up…

My wife has gone back to work, part-time. She’s at a local firm that does business taxes, helping with the rush months (February through mid-April). She started last year (and got cut short by the Trump Pandemic when the company had to shut down their main office) right after she retired, because she wanted to shift into retirement slowly. Go from a run to a walk, as it were. Have a work-week routine without having to work after hours and on weekends. (All. The. Time.)

She was the executive administrative assistant to the president of a local university, previously. Over fifteen years in the job with three presidents. Deb took pride in being able to “expand her job” by going above and beyond the job requirements when she saw an opportunity.

But then she retired, after details we won’t go into here.¹

And then she went to work seven hours a day for the tax group, where she had this old familiar feeling she hadn’t felt in a long time… what was it called?… oh, APPRECIATED

Because my wife gets stuff done. And then goes looking for more stuff to do.

So on this particular night, we had just had remote Wednesday Lenten services at our church. This required a new sort of technology setup, and the church was having a hard time keeping up with filling the number of tech positions we needed with one service a week, never mind going to two. So Deb had volunteered for the camera position, which is mostly just knowing where to point the camera, except for times when there’s more to it than that. (There were some times like that—she handled them just fine.) I was on the audio board, which is a bit more complex. For the first few minutes I kept an eye on Deb, but she seemed okay, and very quickly I had my own problems.

And then we made it through the service, and nothing broke badly, and my wonderful wife, who had never helped with post-service tidying up before, helped tidy things up by simply applying the “if the thing came from here before, it goes back there now for next time” approach. Without having to ask anyone or slow the experienced staff down as we took care of other stuff that was NOT routine.

Because my wife gets stuff done. And then goes looking for more stuff to do.

Bringing us back to the top of the article.

DEB: So I’m like a Navy chief? Why a Navy chief?

ME: Okay, there’s this story, probably apocryphal, about a test question on a Naval Academy leadership exam. The first page states there are flagpoles that need to be painted, and it details the height and circumference of the poles, and how much paint is available, and how many coats are needed, and how long it takes to dry, and when it has to be complete, and there is a chief and some junior enlisted available for the work detail, and so on and so on in boring minute detail. Then the second page is blank, except for one line at the top that says, “Describe the orders necessary to carry out the requirements. Give complete details and show all work.”

DEB: Okay, because the Academy is an engineering school.

ME: Yes, except the correct answer is: “Chief, paint the flag poles.” That’s all. Because in the Navy, chiefs get it done. Officers let the chiefs know what needs to be done, then get out of the way. And you, my love, are a wonderful example of someone who gets stuff done. And your present job, and your church, and your husband all appreciate that.

I am really, really proud of my wife and partner. Just thought I’d share that.

Deb at her new job, with color-coordinated mask and pearls. And why not? (photo by Deb)

¹But if you actually want details:

When she started working at the university, her primary job was keeping the president’s calendar, which also meant making sure said president got to where she was supposed to, and when. (“The woman has a doctorate. Why is this so hard?”) Deb also did correspondence. Initially that involved formatting and tweaking the president’s letters; as time passed, it was writing the entire letter, inserting presidential tweaks as needed, and making the process as routine as possible. And then the occasional presidential speech, written by someone on staff who “was good at this kind of thing,” only they weren’t. So Deb would make some tweaks.Then more. It got to the point that the president would get a speech draft, pass it unread to Deb, and tell her to “do her Deb thing” on it.

Eventually president number one retired, replaced by someone from a smaller university. He had had his own assistant at his old office, and he knew how things were supposed to be done. Only… not as much as he thought. “I always thought [previous assistant] was really good,” he shared with me, “but Deb! It’s like having Radar O’Reilly working for me!”

When president number two retired and his successor — with no previous experience as a university president or in our state higher educational system — arrived, Deb was looking forward to more years of the same chances to improve and expand her job. Alas, the new guy was not used to having an assistant who told him where to go. Who read his emails (not sure how Radar did it, but Deb always stayed a step ahead because she got to the president’s correspondence first). Who (as a mere secretary!) wrote his speeches.

And thus the long hours and the extra time on weekends stopped being just part of the job, and ended up feeling excruciating. Especially when the office could have been operating more efficiently if everything did not have to be reinvented from scratch. Repeatedly. And so, after giving the new guy a chance for a year, Deb offered her resignation and plan for retirement.

A little over a year later, the university is working on finding the third replacement for Deb’s old spot, having had both of Deb’s successors quit with no notice. And the job that was “just a secretary” now has a search board—you know, the things that get convened to find someone of unusual talents at a senior level. (Pay no attention to me, I’m just sitting over here in the corner smirking.)

²I had to pop over to Deb’s new workplace briefly for something. Deb’s boss met me at the door (can’t let just anybody wander in during a pandemic!) and the woman gushed about “what a lifesaver your wife is!” Kinda makes a spouse’s heart go pitty-pat to hear that.



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Jack Herlocker

Jack Herlocker


Husband & retiree. Developer, tech writer, & IT geek. I fill what’s empty, empty what’s full, and scratch where it itches. Occasionally do weird & goofy things.