Thursday, November 21 I had the honor of remembering James E. Ivey, a DC Water employee and President of AFSCME Local 2091, at his
Memorial Service. I’d like to share my remarks so you will understand the loss we feel here at the Authority.
Good morning. Mr. Geo
Johnson called me earlier this week and asked me to speak this morning about my
friend and colleague James Ivey. I had to pause for a moment, realizing
the honor bestowed by the request, the challenge of seeking to do justice for
such a remarkable man, and feeling humbled to be asked. Particularly to
be asked by someone whom I respect as much as Geo Johnson. I am sure Geo
considers his relationship with Ivey, and all the good work the two were able
to achieve with him at his side, as one of his crowning achievements. I
want to thank Geo for the guidance he provided Ivey, and through him, to so
many of the rest of us – and for Geo’s leadership and character. And for
doing me the honor of asking me to join with you this morning.
James Ivey’s career with DC
Water began 25 years ago when he was hired to repair electrical
equipment. At that time we were known as the Water and Sewer Utility
Administration (WASUA), a part of the District Department of Public Works (DPW).
Over the years, Mr. Ivey rose through the union leadership, first as a shop
steward, and later as president of AFSCME Local 2091. He continued to
rise in union ranks, becoming as I have mentioned, a trusted advisor and friend
to Geo Johnson, and a powerful voice for working people that radiated far
beyond the individual people he represented so well. It was in this
capacity that I got to know Ivey myself.
Many of the people assembled
here today are well aware of Ivey’s professional accomplishments. But for
family and friends who may not be as close to his work, let me try to provide a
brief window into the instrumental role Ivey has played in this great
city. To me, Ivey’s genius was founded on three themes.
First and foremost, Ivey
loved and cared about people. I put this characteristic first, because in
my view it was the foundation of everything else. Ivey was one of the
first people who greeted me when I started as General Manager. I was
apprehensive about this first meeting, frantic with Lisa Barton to make sure I
was briefed and ready. Lisa was quick to respond, “Mr. Hawkins, Ivey just
wants to come in a meet you, work will come later.” As usual, Lisa was
right. Ivey was warm from the first moment, and throughout all our first
meetings, did not want to talk shop – but wanted to know about me, how I was
doing, about my family, my own transition to a completely new workplace.
He offered to meet outside the office and to provide counsel as needed. Most of
all, I felt what I am sure so many in this room know so well – I felt that Ivey
genuinely cared about me as a person first, and no matter what else, was ready
to lend a helping hand. During dark moments in my life at DC Water, when
my father passed on, when I faced divorce, and then bright moments too, now
that I launched into a new wonderful relationship and marriage, Ivey was always
there – kind, thoughtful, caring, loving.
Second and just as important,
he cared and loved his working brethren, and advocated for them with articulate
ideas, clear principle, and a fiery commitment that was relentless. Make no
mistake, Ivey is like the manager I try to be – that my colleagues know they
are loved and cared for each moment, yet are also challenged, sometimes with
great vehemence, to reach for more, do better, achieve the best. Ivey was
one of the rare people who would make you feel loved, and challenged, at the
same time. He could offer a warm and friendly greeting with one hand, and
knock me upside the head with the other about one issue or another – and I was
still pleased by the experience!
James Ivey never allowed his
relentless commitment to his membership and his unflinching advocacy for their
interests to interfere with the parallel personal sense that we were still
humans that deserved love and friendship.
Third, and founded on the
first two, Ivey was ultimately a person who elevated the lives of the people he
represented, and everyone who lives, works and visits our fair city, by being
the person who could solve problems and find solutions. Because he built
such strong personal relationships based on genuine love and care, and was
clearly dedicated to the working people he represented, he seemed always in a
unique position to offer solutions to problems that had seemed intractable.
When DC Water had reached impasse on our negotiations for our compensation
agreements, it was an informal conversation with Mr. Ivey that helped trigger
an idea to for DC Water to change negotiators – which became an instrumental
step leading to the labor agreement that we have today. I could offer
dozens of examples from our work together, each moving us forward together.
Ultimately, this combination
to me embodies what this country seems to lack so dramatically these days – which
is a sense of love and caring, a dedication and commitment to working people
and public service, and a capacity to see and find compromise and solutions.
To his family and friends,
you should know and celebrate that this city, all the people in it, and the
people who work for DC Water – all of them – are far better off for his
In the end, I take comfort
from a poem that my wife read at the funeral for her father.
am standing by the seashore.
A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the
and starts for the blue ocean.
She is an object of beauty and strength,
and I stand and watch
until at last she hangs like a peck of white
just where the sun and sky come down to mingle
with each other.Then someone at my side says, ‘There she goes!
Gone where? Gone from my sight – that is all.
She is just as large in mast and hull and spar
as she was when she left my side
and just as able to bear her load of living
to the places of destination.
Her diminished size is in me, not in her.
And just at the moment when someone at my side
‘There she goes! ‘,
there are other eyes watching her coming,
and other voices ready to take up the glad shout
‘Here she comes!’
James Ivey’s grand and beautiful ship has departed our shore. Yet I
celebrate that I know his ship has also arrived in a beautiful place of peace
and strength and love. I know the sun is yet on his face, a cool breeze
on his brow, with his brothers and father at his side.
time an employee takes home a working wage to care for his or her family, every
time a crew responds to a work call safely and every time a person turns on the
tap. James Ivey is watching and smiling.
colleague, customer and worker as a friend first, with love and care, I know
that Ivey is at my side and in my heart.