I always have mixed feelings when members of my staff retire and move on to another chapter of their lives. I am always happy for them to be able to move on to do other things the 40-hour week may have kept them from doing. I am happy they are able to spend more time with family and friends. But, from a selfish perspective, if I could, I wouldn’t let any of them retire until after I retire myself. Over the past 15 years, I have seen several key players retire and move on. And, if you want to know who I mean by key players, I mean everyone from laboratory directors to poultry division directors to meat inspection directors to office staff to field personnel. I consider everyone on the team to be key players. There are some I have leaned on more than others, but everyone who works under the state veterinarian’s umbrella is important.
But, to be really honest with you, when your personal secretary hangs up the spurs and moves on, it leaves a little more of an empty spot than most of the rest who have retired and moved on. At the end of June, Crystal Kennedy, my personal secretary, retired after 25 years of service with the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries.
There are a couple things I need to mention before I bring Crystal into the conversation. First, anybody who has a good secretary knows how hard they work. And, of course, every good secretary knows the supervisor hasn’t got a clue how hard they work. I like to compare it to seeing a duck swimming out on a pond or lake. The duck moves along and hardly makes a ripple on the water, but, if you could see below the surface, there is a lot of paddling going on. I suppose any success I may enjoy with my job as state veterinarian represents a lot of work going on below the surface.
The second point I want to make is that the term secretary is becoming considered politically incorrect. In fact, most government entities have replaced the position of secretary with administrative assistant. I was able to find out that the word secretary comes from the Latin word meaning confidential officer. No one knows why that is a bad thing, but you can ask the folks at Google and they will give you plenty of documentation that the word is not politically correct.
In some cases, I can understand the connotation of certain terms can be a little degrading. I have a friend, Eddy Leverett, in Cullman, who once corrected me when I referred to him as a horse trader. He told me the term horse trader sort of painted a negative picture. He asked me to refer to him as an equine relocation expert. I can see the logic in that, but, when I use the term secretary, I hold those I reference in the highest regard.
Crystal became my secretary back toward the end of the summer of 2003. That was about the time when a whole lot of things required from state veterinarians were changing. We were just beginning to work through all kinds of emergency-preparedness plans. Cooperative agreements with the U.S. Department of Agriculture were about to get much more complicated. (Cooperative agreements are between State Departments of Agriculture and the USDA. There are things mutually beneficial to both state and federal governments. We write up a work plan and budget, and the USDA provides funds to accomplish our plan.)
And we were about to open the door on animal disease traceability. Back in the old days, we called it animal identification; but that, like a lot of other terms, became politically incorrect.
Anyway, my point is that about the time Crystal came to work on the team, my life was getting a lot more complicated with a lot of new requirements and paperwork. She pretty much took all the changes in stride. Without good secretarial assistance, there are many times I would have probably just curled up in the fetal position on the floor of my office.
Crystal came in with experience in the agricultural community. She had also worked with a rodeo company, so dealing with cowboys with issues like health certificates and other regulatory issues was not a challenge. Then when animal disease traceability began to be a major priority for us, she became the premises ID coordinator and became a quick expert on that subject, as well as being responsible for sending out ear tags from our office to be used by producers.
I occasionally listen to talk radio and hear the host refer to the call screener. I realize the call screener plays an important role in the success of the radio program. One of the things Crystal did well was to answer the phone calls coming into my office and to have the wisdom to know which ones she could handle and which ones needed to come to my desk. If you ever called my office and asked to speak to Dr. Frazier and were asked what the call pertained to, it was not because I didn’t want to talk to you. It was because Crystal could often do a lot better job helping you with what you needed than I could.
Also, I want to mention that just keeping me pointed in the right direction could be considered a fulltime job in itself. I love my job. I tremendously enjoy getting to go to various agriculture meetings across the state. I am even occasionally asked to come to explain some of our issues like bird flu to non-agriculture groups. Those appointments keep me pretty busy. And, just to be perfectly honest with you, I may struggle just a little in keeping my schedule straight. If I did not have someone making sure I am where I should be when I should be there, I am likely to be in Mobile to speak to the Rotary Club when I should be in Huntsville at a cattlemen’s meeting. No one will ever know how difficult it is to have me in the right place at the right time (except Crystal’s replacement and she is about to find out).
People you work closely with over the years become kind of like family. We all go through the triumphs and tragedies, the highs and lows, and just the everyday things making up life. I was around for Crystal’s marriage to Bucky, a man who is in the agriculture arena every day. I was around as she became a mom and then became a mom again. I guess we all see one another mature and become the people we will eventually be as we travel down the road. So as Crystal lays down the title of Secretary (confidential officer) and continues with the titles Wife and Mother and whatever else she does with life after retirement, I wish her the best. She will be missed.