Like most oldsters I’m in the habit of looking at the obituary section of our local newspaper, which is now called “life tributes.” Obituaries or life tributes, on this day I came across a name I recognized. Genevive Dunlap. She’d passed away at the age of 65, just after retiring from her State of California job as head of the Health Information Section. Genevive was one of the few people in my life that I’d really hated. I hated her because she made, not only me, but everyone who worked in our little section, miserable. So Genevive was gone. And she’d never advanced beyond being section chief. Her ambition, I knew, had been to become a division head and she’d spent most of her time, when not making her employees miserable, on the phone, cultivating people in her efforts to get there.
I hadn’t thought about that time I’d spent in the Health Info Section for many years. How had I gotten myself in that situation? Then I remembered. Dr. Sylvia Graystone, who was the section head, had retired and Genevive had replaced her. Dr. Graystone had been a normal person for a State manager. She assumed we knew what we were doing, let us handle our assignments without interference and was satisfied as long as we did our work properly. This all changed when Genevive came in.
Dr. Graystone had been a woman in her sixties, gray-haired with a round, pleasant face and a maternal air about her. Genevive must have been 45 or so back then. She had a triangular face with thin lips and eyes that slid around. She also was unfortunate enough to have very thick legs. On her first day she had a so-called staff meeting, one of many to come. She told us she’d heard that our section had become lax and disorganized and she was going to change that, run a tight ship, have everything dome just so. She had set up a large board on the wall outside of her office on which we were to sign in and out when we started work, went on our breaks, had lunch, went anywhere out of the office. She wanted to know where all of us were at all times. She went on. She wanted to know about any contact we had with the public. She wanted to see all memos and reports and had to approve everything that went out. And of course phones were to be used only for official business, never for anything private. I’m sure there were some other things but those were enough.
I was considerably older than Genevieve at the time and I used my age as an advantage. I ignored her sign in/sign out board, telling her I was too old for such kindergarten nonsense. We had almost weekly discussions about this and I’m sure I had a lot of bad stuff put into my personnel folder. But who cared; the State wasn’t going to fire me and I wasn’t going to get promoted no matter what. Also, I soon learned that Genevieve had no knowledge of the antiquated computer system then needed to provide the reports our Health Information Section was designed to do. I did have the knowledge and I also acted as mentor to the younger analysts who were trying to learn it. Then one of my reports caught the attention of our new department director, Dr. Blandish, who thought it would make a good article for The Western Journal of Medicine. After that, Genevieve didn’t bother me about her board. So in the end I survived her reign and was about to retire, handing in my papers along with a blistering note, when I had an offer from another section whose information system was in bad shape and needed someone to fix it. Somewhat against my better judgment I decided take it and so let myself in for another two years working for the State.
All of this came back to me in a flood when I read Genevieve’s obit notice. And you know what; none of it mattered. As soon as I left Genevive’s section I became engrossed in two things, my new job and my pending retirement. In two years I thought the information system was in adequate shape and handed in my papers, with no blistering note. I then became engrossed in my retirement activities. A few months after I’d left the State I answered an ad for what was called a State Annuitant job, more out of curiosity than anything else. When I went into a State building for an interview I felt I was entering foreign territory. When I was asked about my previous State work I could barely remember what I’d been doing. I didn’t take the job.
I looked at the obit notice again. It said that Genevive was survived by her husband and a daughter. Hard as it was to believe, I knew that someone had married her. I didn’t know she’d had a daughter. Maybe I’d known but had forgotten. I’d forgotten Genevive. I no longer hated her. I hadn’t hated her for a long time. Looking back, she seemed pathetic. So she’d passed away right after leaving the State and hadn’t had a chance to enjoy a retirement. Too bad, I guess. Maybe without underlings to kick around and nothing to scheme for she wouldn’t have enjoyed being retired. In any case, she was gone. I’d soon forget the obituary and all about her again.