Friday, September 14, 2012

MOTIVATIONAL STORIES: Joe Garland, Fearless Leadership

Gloucester Docks at Dusk
Gloucester Docks at Dusk (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Bonnie Hurd Smith

About a year ago, the great Joe Garland died. Journalist. Historian. Author. Community Leader. Visionary.

At the time, I had just ended a relationship with someone I really loved. Neither one of us wanted to, but we had to for reasons I won't explain.

I was in a lot of pain, and couldn't handle one more thing. So, I didn't. Shame on me.

A year later, I am working with Joe's wife, Helen, on some projects. Spending time at their house and in Gloucester after too many years of being away from "the community of my heart," thanks to Helen, thank God. She brought me back.

So, I've been thinking about Joe. Finally. A year later. Delayed grief.

The first thing I know is how much we still need his voice. As a writer, he was forceful, elegant, irreverent, entertaining, brilliant - and important. As a speaker, he was exactly the same way. Add charming. Bedroom slippers and all. Oh yes he did, even at the Boston Athenaeum. Joe was Joe. Period. No pretense. And he always told the truth. Always.

Joe was also a visionary who cared deeply about Gloucester and Gloucester's future. Gloucester is, of course, irrevocably tied to the world. He got that. He saw it all, and he worried. Today, there's a lot of B.S. going on in Gloucester politically. People who care about Gloucester in the way that Joe did are being intimidated into silence or bought off. Lies are being told that people are believing.

NO ONE intimidated Joe Garland. NO ONE could buy him off. And he would NOT put up with lies. He would expose them. He told the truth relentlessly, in his writing, speaking, or in conversations. Sure, he pissed people off. It was fun to watch! When you provide leadership, you piss people off. So, he did.

We need more people like Joe Garland, but we still need Joe Garland.

His words, and his vision for a sustainable Gloucester where we respect all of its natural elements and its history and won't allow it to be sold out, one where we all pull together to make it work, are still needed. His words live on in his written works. They live on through Helen, and his many friends. We need his fearless and articulate leadership. Always. How we miss him. But how he MUST continue to be present.

One of my favorite personal stories about Joe involved his book The Fish and the Falcon, a reissue of his 1970s book Guns Off Gloucester which told the story of battles with the British off the coast in 1776.

In the 1970s, Judith Sargent Murray's letters from that period of time hadn't been found. But they had been when it came time for him to write The Fish and the Falcon in the 1990s. He contacted me, and I sent him my transcriptions of Judith's letters describing what happened.

I thought he would, maybe, include an excerpt in a call-out box or on a page. Instead, he wove her voice throughout the book. I was knocked out.

Shortly after the book came out, I ran into Joe and Helen at a restaurant in Essex. We were all going to an event at the Essex Shipbuilding Museum. He said to me, gruffly, of course, 'cause he was Joe, "I need to pay you a compliment."

Okay...

He said, "For years, I've thought you were crazy. No, really, I thought you were insane for being so obsessed with this woman. I wondered what was wrong with you." Was there a compliment coming??? He said, "But when I read those letters, I cried. They were so beautifully written, but when she had herself inoculated with the small pox to be able to take care of her father in case he got sick, I cried. So," he continued, "I get it. You're not crazy." Wow. Joe Garland said I wasn't crazy!

What an honor it was to know him, and to have him respect my work. And to include my work in his.

I, in turn, today, a year after his death, am just coming to fully appreciate his visionary leadership in Gloucester. That voice must never, ever be silenced, and he must continue to be held up as an example of fearless leadership and relentless truth telling and enormous talent.

Joe Garland. He died loved, happy, and in the beautiful home he shared with Helen. He just went to sleep one day. What an honor it is to know both of them. Joe Garland. Joseph E. Garland. I have a message for you. Don't rest in peace. Don't rest at all. You were always restless anyway. And we need you, damn it, as you would say. But, thank you for everything.

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