You were there when I first started in 2005. A pretty, smiling face, a Southern lady who cleverly concealed her understanding of all our ribald and questionable words and actions. You understood where I came from, being from the same region and culture yourself. You sent me pictures of Brinkley, as you passed through. You were there when my wife died unexpectedly. You sat in the room across from me when we were certain we had lost the job lottery during a staff reduction. Despite my own shock, I was shocked and stunned on your behalf. These kinds of moments forge a connection. (Note: I miss Leroy, who didn’t survive the cut, much to our mutual surprise.)

I have no doubt that I exasperated you on a lot of levels.

Though I can’t remember any of them, I am certain I ate at your diner in Johnson many times while you tirelessly worked the tables, kitchen, and your poor husband Phil.

I love teasing you about your attention to detail and exasperating way of making sure I understand you. It was, for this reason, I nicknamed you the Chihuahua; tireless, small in stature, but impossible to ignore.

We all get caught up in the bureaucracy of living and work. In so doing, we glibly overlook how fascinating the people around us can be.

You are the rare combination of a hard worker and a compassionate listener.

You’ve dedicated thousands of hours that no one else in your position would.

Both of these qualities will dim our lives when you retire. Having worked in this environment for so many years, I can confess that we still share and tell stories of all the people we had the honor of knowing in common. It’s an infinite game of leapfrog, as people come and go and overlap. Your overlap is gargantuan and memorable.

I’ll steal the cliché and modify it: “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s almost gone.”

I don’t know what you’re going to do with the 30+ remaining years of your life.

I hope it’s epic. I hope it’s kind.

And I pray for Phil.

Love, X

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