Ralph has graciously allowed Carrolle Rushford and me to add a postscript to the last column of our “brother” Steve Oppermann. My name is John Jones and the three of us go way back—almost 40 years as Federal colleagues. Steve and I began working with Carrolle’s company when we both retired from Federal service.
If you read Steve’s column regularly, you know by now that he passed away on December 22, 2013, after a heroic battle with kidney cancer. Steve shared with his FedSmith readers many of the details of his treatment, struggles and triumphs during his final year with us. One of his last columns, which FedSmith posted last week, was written in September.
What you may not know is that, despite the dire and discouraging events of that month – blood clots, no appetite, scary weight loss – Steve and Lynda, his loving wife, decided to go ahead with plans for a transatlantic cruise from Rome to Miami scheduled for November 1 through November 16. Although my wife Shirley and I had sailed on many cruises and traveled extensively with Steve and Lynda this one was special because our “boss lady,” the one and only Carrolle Rushford, Carrolle’s hubby Ed and Ed’s sisters, Jean and Ursula would be joining us for the first time. We all knew there were some risks but Steve was determined not to let the worries and the “what ifs” stop us from another adventure like those chronicled in so many of Steve’s early columns.
Steve and Lynda, Shirley and I met in Rome and spent a few days exploring the city and avoiding (by about an hour) being in the middle of a major anti-government protest. We’d visited Rome together before and discovered that we still knew the way to Trevi and the Spanish Steps. It is truly the Eternal City.
Now we won’t try to describe the trip as Steve would have because he had a style and flow that was unique, whether he was addressing the pros and cons of overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act, taking on the subject of workplace bullying or offering ways and reasons to travel well on a government annuity.
Suffice to say that the cruise was pure joy. We were blessed with calm seas and warm weather for nearly the entire time. A crew member commented that it was the smoothest Atlantic crossing for that time of the year he could remember.
Steve didn’t have much appetite but he ate with us every night and joined in the sometimes raucous banter with our waiters. In true Steve form, he was effusive in his praise for the singers, dancers, comedians and contortionists that performed for us every night. The three of us enjoyed a wonderful stroll down memory lane watching a great performance of a group imitating the Beatles—music of “our” time. He remained upbeat and positive through the end of the sailing, never letting on to us his increasing pain and ebbing strength. He lived life to its fullest—his usual style.
Carrolle and I are convinced that Steve would have wanted to write a November column about the joy of the cruise and the humor of trying to take his injection the same time each day on a westbound ship. It would have made you laugh. And you know that Steve would have replied to each and every one of you who responded to that last column and wished him well.
He just ran out of time. …
John Jones is a former Federal manager who worked as a Personnel Officer and EEO Officer in a variety of agencies until his retirement in March 31, 1997—the same day as Steve Oppermann. John and Steve then worked together as consultants to Rushford & Associates, traveled together around the world, and saw their friendship grow into “brotherhood.”
Carrolle Rushford is a former Federal employee who worked as an HR and EEO Specialist in four agencies. She founded Rushford & Associates in 1983, and was an adjunct faculty member for OPM’s training centers in Denver & Shepherdstown from 1986 to 2012. John, Steve and Carrolle were friends through their Federal employment for many years before working together since 1997.