My wise friend

I first met my wise friend more than twenty years ago, when I changed jobs and he became my boss.

In fact I met him before starting my new job. My name had been put forward by a board member of the company – in fact the person my friend worked for – and it was only natural that he should meet the person he would be working with before I joined the company.

During our first interview I could see he was somewhat “suspicious”, but in the end he told me very openly: “You know, Mr. Rocher praised you to such an extent that I thought perhaps he was exaggerating a little, but now that I have met you I can only conclude he was right. Welcome to our team!” – and he shook my hand vigorously. After that, we began a six year working relationship that could not have been any better – and from that working relationship a great friendship was born, that lasts to this day.

My wise friend is some 20 years older than I, and much, much wiser…he is the friend I turn to when I need advice, either in my personal or in my professional life. He is a very balanced person – being a Libra, represented by a scale – and very calm and serene. Even in moments of agitation and stress, never did I see him shout at anyone or be less than polite.

I remember those years working with him as among the best of my career. As a boss, he was demanding while understanding; he was professional while very human; he was driven by objectives while flexible; and, above all, he was very loyal, very supportive and very ethical. All these qualities made him a very easy person to work with. Along the years we developed total trust in each other and he would confide some of his worries in me.

He has a long and happy marriage and has an only daughter, who was then the “apple of his eye”. I remember him telling me about her as she ended a few year’s relationship and my telling him she would soon fall in love again, being young and very pretty as she was – and bright too. As a coincidence, she fell in love with a young man who worked with us, a young engineer, whom she married, and my friend was never happier than when he announced he was going to become a grandfather.

He was highly respected within the company, where he had worked for several decades, but one day – as these things invariably happen – his own boss changed and the new one was a very different sort of person, who didn’t recognise or value hard work – rather connections and “pedigrees”. There was no way they could have worked well together and soon he was asked to ponder about an early retirement.

He told me this one evening in his office, where we had spent so many hours working together for this same company that was now being so ungrateful to him. I was so shocked that I broke one of my “golden rules”: never to cry at work! I burst out crying and it was up to him to console me. I felt utterly silly but could not help myself. Always thoughtful he knew how much I would hate someone seeing me in that sorry state – I remember his going to his office’s door and locking it. Amidst my tears I thought “oh my God, how terrible this will look if someone tries to open the door…” – and then I shared my thoughts with him and we ended up laughing, imagining what people would say about us locking ourselves together…

Together with the rest of our team I prepared a very touching homage to this great man, this great professional with whom we had learned so much. And I also began to consider leaving, as I didn’t want to go on working with the people that had treated him in such a way – which I fortunately did, and very soon I was moving on as well.

We kept in touch during those years and even if we didn’t see each other very often – his living in the North made it the more difficult – we often talked. I would call him and tell him my news, how my career was progressing, how my children – who had both been born during our years of working together – were growing…on his side he told me about his granddaughters, and also about his daughter’s divorce. As always he and his wife were unconditionally by their daughter’s side, solid as rocks, giving her all the support she needed to go through such a difficult phase.

Then, by a twist of fate we ended up working together again: he mentioned me to the CEO of the company where he was currently a board member and I was invited to join. I had in fact called him and asked for his help, as I wanted to leave the company I was currently working with, so again my friend was there for me and reached out a friendly hand.

What a privilege it was to find myself working with him again! How happy we were to again share our ideas and put into place the strategies we both believed in. How privileged I was to be working again with someone I could trust entirely, and with whom I could still learn so much…those were happy, unforgettable days. And, always, our friendship, because by now we had reached a point where, before being colleagues, we were good friends. And nothing could change that.

And nothing did. When he left the company, we remained friends. I missed his company so much, his advice, the sense of humour he kept even in the darkest moments. But there he was, at the distance of a phone call, to listen to me and cheer me up, with his serene attitude and his wise words of advice.

In my most difficult moments, when I felt my career was crumbling down, he always had a word of hope, of support, telling me never to lose confidence and faith in myself. Teaching me to take things easy, not to give too much importance to certain people…sometimes in the evening I would call him and pour my heart out, and he would patiently listen to me…how grateful I am to him for being there for me, for being such a friend – and for his wise advice.

When I celebrated my 50th birthday again he gave me a wonderful proof of friendship – in fact, in this case, it was rather from his wife. I celebrated it on the very day of her birthday, but still they came from the North and, instead of celebrating her birthday with their family, they did so with me and my friends. I was very touched by this gesture – yet another proof of the great friendship that unites us.

My friend is now retired but with a hectic life – as it should be. Knowing him as I do it could not be otherwise. He and his wife – both very fit and healthy, thank God – have a very active social life and they travel extensively. For the moment they are taking care of their two granddaughters who are teenagers, as their daughter is now beginning a new career abroad and preparing for her daughters to join her.

My dear friend has raised a beautiful, happy family together with his dear wife of so many years. They are enjoying life to the full and their “retirement” is but a word – they are anything but “retired”, in fact they are much more active than many 40 and 50 year olds I know. Even the other day, he sent me an email saying “I have not been able to write back to you as soon as I would have liked too, because my life has been hectic…”, and then he concluded “I’ll be getting back to you soon, but for now my wife and I will go on a short holiday together”. By his tone you’d conclude you are in presence of a much younger person, with a lot of professional and family commitments…and the fact is he IS a very young person, he keeps a very young spirit, and he is as busy as ever. Only doing much more interesting things than just working, I gather…

I would like to dedicate these words to my wise friend – even if he knows how fond I am of him, I still  want to tell him how grateful I am for his patience, his guidance, his advice. For the trust he put in me so many years ago from the first day we met. For the hand he reached out when I most needed. For listening to me on those evenings when I was at my most desperate. For sharing my joys. For reading my blog and sharing it with his granddaughters and friends. For being there for me – always.

My dear and wise friend: I feel very privileged to have such a friend in my life. You have certainly made my life richer in many ways. Please know that you will always have a true friend in me – now and forevermore.