Saturday, December 21, 2019

Tales to tell

Because of what I’ve experienced, and what I know about the experiences of others, I now understand that grieving people need to talk about the loved one they’ve lost. As it happens, there’s a lot I want to tell about Nigel, things I didn’t talk about when he was alive. Many of those who also loved him would like to hear those stories again (or for the first time), and sharing them will help even those who never met Nigel to know him, at least a little bit. There are so many stories about Nigel I haven’t told—yet—and this Note is about one of those.

The graphic is a screenshot of one of Nigel’s own posts on Facebook a couple years ago. He’d just graduated from a special program conducted by Auckland Council and the University of Auckland to train participants as Civil Defence (now usually called “Emergency Management”) controllers, that is, the people who are in charge of the city’s response to an emergency, like a natural disaster. He was very proud of his achievement, and I was proud of him, too. However, I’m also embarrassed by the fact that I haven’t talked about it nearly enough.

Nigel was shoulder-tapped to become a controller: His bosses asked him to do it. Nigel had excellent decision-making skills, a calm temperament, and the ability to understand a problem and then work out solutions. I’m sure others saw that in him, too.

Among other things, the course involved lectures and field visits to see the typical hazards Auckland faces, the kinds of things that disaster controllers might be involved with. He enjoyed the course, and came home telling me in great detail about those hazards (which I found interesting, actually, and Nigel’s enthusiasm for the subject no doubt made it even more so). At the end of the course, he became a Civil Defence Controller for Auckland Council.

Auckland Council was training more controllers so that there could be more of them in the pool, because it was a burden for the individuals: During the time they were on duty, which was about a week at a time, they were required to stay in Auckland, had to keep a VERY heavy portable battery powered satellite phone nearby (I called it “the football”, after the nickname for the briefcase said to contain the US nuclear launch codes that’s always near a US president) They also had to be reachable by phone 24 hours a day.

Because of the increased number of controllers, each one only had to do it every few months, and Nigel was on duty two or three times, as I recall. There was never a disaster, fortunately, when he was on duty, though there was once a storm front that came through Auckland that could have been bad, but, fortunately, wasn’t.

I can say with total honesty that I feel that if Auckland had ever faced a disaster when Nigel was on duty, the city would have been in the best possible hands. I really did feel safer when he was on duty.

In addition to coordinating the city’s response to emergencies, the controller has the authority to actually declare an emergency, so one of the specific things the controllers were trained in was how to deal with politicians. It was possible that in a disaster someone elected, like a Councillor or the Mayor, might try to intervene, or they might try to push the controller to declare an emergency. Among other things, the controller on duty could ring Wellington who can, basically, order the politician to back off. The controller is the arbiter of what the city’s response is, and Wellington backs up the controller.

One of the reasons that Nigel was so proud of his achievement was that he’d never attended university. A university degree isn’t necessary in New Zealand, but he always felt he’d missed out on something. He frequently talked about doing some papers (what Americans call “courses”), mainly in business, and maybe even working toward a degree. However, aside from some seminars here and there, he never got around to it. Which means that completing the controller course—with distinction, no less—meant a LOT to him.

Proud as I am of his success and achievement, and despite the fact that I knew how important completing the course was to him, and that he did it with distinction, and also how significant it was that he was asked to become a controller, I’m nevertheless embarrassed by it. That’s because despite its importance, I forgot to mention it when I was putting together his memorial gathering—though, to cut myself some slack, Nigel didn’t mention it, either, and I was a bit distressed at the time…

Another issue for me, though, is that I was used to not talking about Nigel’s achievements. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to—I wanted to very badly. It was just that I was trying to protect him.

Working for a government body can expose workers to, shall we say, over-reaction from politicians and voters. I wrote and podcasted about politics a lot, and I didn’t want him to be targeted because of something I said, so, to avoid linking his work with my “side projects”, the best option was to say nothing about what he did or that was even remotely connected with his work. Instead, I limited what I said about him to what we did in our life together. For the same reason—wanting to protect him—before I got involved in New Zealand politics, I asked him if it was okay . He said it was, obviously (because I was involved for awhile), but I would have stayed away if he’d said it could be a problem for him.

Beyond that, as I said back in October when I talked about the electric gate he put in for us, “Nigel was modest about his own abilities and was actually embarrassed if anyone made a fuss about the stuff he did or could do.” I didn’t want to embarrass him.

That’s why up until now I haven’t shared many stories about Nigel. While I wish I’d talked more about this awesome stuff while he was alive, I can at least do that now. I knew him better than anyone, especially what he really thought and felt, so I’m making sure to talk more about him so others know him, too: I want everyone who knows me to know just how wonderful he was.

As I said the other day, no one has ever impacted my life as much as Nigel did, so I think that the very least I can do is to now share some of the specific reasons why that’s true. There are so many stories about Nigel I haven’t told—yet. But I will.

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