Thursday, February 5, 2009

Lights Out, Matey!

It's 7 pm and I'm still at work, and they just blinked the lights to let us know that they really don't want to keep paying for electricity all night long. I wonder if they ever really turn them out completely? I hope I'm never here long enough to find out.

I have wanted to blog for a few days and haven't made the time. Then, yesterday, something happened that I knew I wanted to share.

On February 4, 2008, Captain Robert Gautier died. I think he was 85. He was a great man, a retired Navy submariner, a pretty good vintner, and someone I will always honor for helping me shape my life.

It was about 1972. I was working as a civil servant at the Naval Undersea Research and Development Center (soon to be renamed the Naval Undersea Center) as a clerk to about 15 physicist-systems analysts-engineer types. The work they did was highly classified and as their secretary, one of my jobs was to check their offices every night to be sure all classified materials were locked up. Of course, sometimes they stayed later than I did, and if they didn't put something away, I would be blamed for a security breach. The Navy had strict rules, and they only allowed a certain number of breaches before they hauled you up for a CAPTAIN'S MAST!

Well, I hit the magic number of breaches and was summoned to visit the captain of our lab. This visit was akin to the lowliest of the low being summoned to speak directly to God. I was terrified. I knew I was going to lose my job or be suspended without pay. Either of those two outcomes would have been catastrophic to anyone, but I was a single mom and had bills to pay!

As I entered Capt. Gautier's office, he asked my supervisor to wait outside (yep, my boss had to accompany me!) and he proceeded to have a major "Come to Jesus" meeting with me. He spoke a lot about responsibility and honor and the importance of the work our lab was doing for the country, the world, and the Navy. Of course, through most of it, I was either crying or thinking petulant thoughts about how it really wasn't my fault, blah, blah blah. At the end of the lecture, he told me that he wasn't going to fire me, but he insisted that I find another job at the lab that had limited high-security information. I had to keep my nose clean for two years to erase the previous breaches, and he wanted to be sure that I had a good chance of doing that. And, when the Captain wanted something to happen, it happened fast!

So, I transferred. My new boss was a senior manager over several other smaller departments: photography, graphics, video, library, and TECHNICAL INFORMATION! As it turned out, Captain Gautier (and God) put me in the exact right place for me to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Because of the horrible experience of screwing up, I began to work for someone who realized my communication skills and in time, he helped me get the training and the contacts I needed to become a technical writer.

Without Capt. Gautier, I know my life would have been very different. My disgrace turned into my salvation. And, as luck would have it, years later Capt. Gautier's daughter became one of my best friends (I didn't realize who she was for a long time!). So, I continued to have Capt. Gautier in my life. No matter how old he and I got, or how many years after his retirement it was, I always called him "Captain." I will always be grateful to him for seeing something in me that was worth a second chance.

Bob Gautier was a great man who will be missed by many friends and family. So, lights out, my friend. I know you're already sailing the high seas of heaven.

1 comment:

  1. Bob was as great a human as any mortal can hope to be. I had many great visits to his cellar on Pt. Loma and gave him all the empty wine bottles I collected from my own enjoyment of this wonderful beverage. I still have several of his vintages in my cellar today (11/11/11). LO has done a fabulous job in her article...he will be missed by everyone who every met him especially those who shared a glass of his ok wine in his cellar.
    I had not been in touch with Capt Gautier in several years since retiring from the lab in 2000. So todayI Googled him, only to find we have lost a great sailor and an even greater true gentleman!
    Hal W. Goforth, Jr., Ph.D., CAPT USNR (Retired)


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