I’ve had the honor of serving with many brave and talented heroes throughout my career. Those who instilled the drive in me to be better, I consider them mentors. I have also crossed paths with several who have demonstrated the worst examples of greed, incompetence, and sometimes cowardice. Those are the morons whose grievances I will discuss and highlight.
Leadership Doesn’t Have to be Loud
A few weeks ago was the 10th anniversary of Jim Moody’s passing. I was unable to see him off as I was working in NC for a mentally stagnated group of county commissioners. For those who were fortunate to work under his command, all lost a great leader. Early in the formative days of Orange County Fire Rescue (OCFRD) leaders were made. And a few failed. Jim was of the former. I recall my first interaction with him a few months before OCFRD formed in the ’80s. I called to discuss a joint training project. As he answered the phone, I heard a very low, booming voice, “Union Park Fire Department…………..Moody speaking.” Not only did his low voice put me off for a second, but the delay in him saying his name sent a mental visual of him looking down at his name tag to remind him of his name. I asked him one day if he used to wear his name tag upside down enabling him to look at it while answering the phone. He just chuckled and smiled. Jim was like that, level-headed, able to tell a joke and take one with grace. While being that, he was also extremely methodical and deliberate in all that he did. Some mistook his mannerisms as stand-offish or unapproachable, but in truth, he was always supportive and willing to share a smile or a few words of kindness and support.
He and I were colleagues having been promoted to AOCs during the first days of OCFRD and spent many hours together in meetings or at scenes. Initially, our relationship started off a bit rocky due to the knuckle-headed antics of one of my battalion chiefs who showed up inebriated at an MVA in cut-off shorts. Jim, always a stickler (and rightfully so) for professionalism was livid and unloaded on me. Being the good leader (and not knowing the details), I stuck up for my BC and let Jim know he should mind his own business. However, once the facts floated to the surface it was clear my BC (no not Jim and not Gary) was guilty. We took appropriate action and I apologized for being a knucklehead. No more was said, and our relationship continued to move forward.
A year into the department’s history, Jim Cragan and Jimmie Dunham were in a pissing contest about…pick a topic. It usually had something to do with Jimmie’s ego, which on most days had difficulty making it through the doorway. As a side story: When the senior chiefs were appointed, Jimmie thought he was the odds-on favorite to be anointed county fire chief following his heroics subduing a shooter at the Orange County Courthouse a few years prior. Notwithstanding his daily ass-kissing exploits downtown. So, when Jimmie wasn’t appointed “Jefe de Jefes” he threw a fit. So, to stop his whining, he was given a booby prize and made “chief deputy”. This helped to reduce the daily dramas between him and the deputy chiefs.
Immediately he made sure all knew that as thee chief deputy he was all-knowing and God’s gift to the fire service. On one of his more regal days, we got into a heated discussion about an EMS call. I’m sure my final comment, “It would be much better for all if you would let me do my job”, was instrumental in a cascading series of events that left me without a command and landed me on Jim Moody’s shift.
So, you ask, “What’s this got to do with leadership?” As a great observer of human behavior, Jim knew I was angry, hurt and generally pissed-off. How did Jim handle it? In our first meeting, he said, “Frank, I know you’re pissed, and rightfully so, but I can’t change what happened. But here’s the deal, I’m going to give you 30 days to get it out of your system. When you report for duty, following your morning checkouts and taking care of “stuff” do whatever you want. Drive around, take long lunches, goof-off as long it doesn’t blow back on the department. And in 30 days I want you to report for duty 100%”. Unorthodox you say? Yes, but very effective…and without fanfare helping to maintain my modicum of dignity, keeping the rumor mill out of the picture, and quite honestly saving an employee. Jim was like that, quiet, understated, fair, and honest to a fault.
Then 1995 came along. The great social experiment fomented by Commissioner Mabel (“I ain’t talkin’ ‘bout no china-ricans”) Butler and shark smile Linda Chapin. Linda and Mabel had been insulted by a small group of union leadership thugs who thought following and harassing the County Mayor’s mother would be the best way to get a raise for their membership. Hmmm, maybe they should have thought that through. Linda and Mabel wanted revenge. Since Cragan was no longer the county fire chief being led out of HQ in handcuffs, it was left up to Mitch to calm everyone and get the department’s and county’s relationship back on track. Mitch, being one of a few surviving backbone donors displayed a truly grievous demonstration of cowardice. To save his skin, he caused the layoff of 140 firefighters, the disruption of dozens of careers, and generally laid the department in ruins.
Jim was an unlikely hero that rose to the occasion, settled the nerves of scores of department members, and in doing so set in motion the rebuilding of a great department. Although some may remember it differently, being able to witness many of Jim’s day-to-day efforts to salvage a department that Linda and Mabel were hell-bent on destroying, I observed daily acts of compassion, determination, and courageous leadership.
I was not able to visit him in his time of need, and for that I will always regret it. But the days I was able to work with him will always be remembered and cherished. One of my career highlights…being fortunate to call him friend.
RIP, my friend… see you at the big one.