Thursday, November 23, 2006


15 Nov 2006

My last images of Barb in my mind were those in the Kuwait Hilton just as Mary, Mike and I had left the restaurant and we ran into her, Ken and Jim. It was such a pleasant surprise to see her…but not such a pleasant surprise to run into the rest of the unscrupulous crowd she was hanging with at the time.

Being the point blank person she was, Barb directly asked me why I had decided to leave at the end of contract. I really didn’t want to answer in front of Jim and Ken, but I gave her the honest answer that she asked for and deserved. You see, Barb and I had developed an honest relationship when I trained under her wonderful tutelage in Qatar back in April/May of 2004. After our roughly 20 days together, I found her to be brutally honest, passionate about her work and constructively open to whatever needed to be discussed. You can’t fix it if you don’t know what the problem is.

After I walked away from Barb that day in May of 2006, I only got around the corner before my emotions caught up with me. Mary and Michael came back over to console me in the long hallway of shops and asked what Jim (they thought that the project manager had chewed me a new one) said to me! I was laughing my ass off inside, but replied to them that it wasn’t anything HE said, it was my sadness deep down that I wouldn’t ever have the opportunity to work with or for Barb again. When I left the contract in May, my resolve was that I’d never come back…ever! At this point and time, I was sure that I was losing a friend for good. I was just sad.

Now if you’ll kindly climb back into the way-back machine with me, I’ll take you back to April of 2004. The country manager at the time decided that we needed to initiate ISO9000 and QC to the Iraq theater. I was asked by Phil our site lead if I was interested. I was told to vacate my tent and take everything with me to Qatar. They supposedly had no idea how long I’d be there. When I arrived, the two guys that picked me up commented that I’d packed a little heavy for a 9 day temporary duty!

Should have known right from the start that this was a boondoggle, right? So I meet Barb the ISO9000 and QC goddess and she advises me that Joe came to her and was all ready to get ISO9000 and QC programs going in Iraq. My first impressions were that this did not at all sound like the country manager Joe that I know. So I told Barb my impressions and said that it sounds like lip service. Send someone there, get back to Iraq and then pencil whip the stuff the front office wants to see till the entire Middle East runs out of lead in their pencils!

Barb said that she hoped that wasn’t the situation, but she’d take my opinion into consideration. However, we still had plenty of work to do to get me into shape to start pulling this program together. The next two weeks, I was exposed to all different types of meetings and inspections and pre-inspections. More than you could ever believe.

Barb’s candor, dedication and people skills rendered everyone she met, defenseless. She was by no means derogatory, insensitive or cruel. She knew her job and she needed to make sure that people took her seriously. She gave respect to the people that worked with her and the people that she was inspecting and in return, she was provided the utmost respect.

It wasn’t all work. Barb and I had time to get to know one another in our trips around the city of Doha, Qatar and during the day. She was about my Mom’s age and I was probably about her kids’ age. We both were very well traveled and loved living overseas. Even after her husband passed away of a heart attack while they were living in Turkey, she and the kids stayed overseas. She adored Turkey and had a house there. I’m sure that is where she would retire one day if she was one that would ever retire!

Long story, less long. I got back to Iraq, performed my first inspection and wrote up my first report only to get blown out of the water by Joe, the country manager. “Don’t you EVER send up a report to the ISO QC manager without letting me review it first!” Correct me if I’m wrong, but the inspection is supposed to go to the ISO manager so that she can identify what actions are required to correct the deficiencies.

I called Barb and as nice as I could, told her “I told you so!” She only laughed and said that she would take it from here. She loved challenges and knew that fighting with Joe was going to be an interesting one. Because of the challenges of getting into Iraq and the lack of safety at the time in 2004 and 2005, many of the QC issues had the timeline pushed out some.

As luck would have it, that opportunity came this summer. Barb was flying all over Iraq this summer to inspect and institute ISO9000 and QC at all the sites. I understand that the flak vest and helmets fit her something like Bugs Bunny in uniform when he tried to volunteer for service in the Army. But being the trooper that she was, she enthusiastically boarded one helo after another to get to all the sites. It’s just who she was and her “go get ‘em” attitude.

Around the end of September beginning of October, I was on my way back to Iraq…even after I said that I’d never go back! My first thought when I knew we were headed to Arifjan in Kuwait was that I’d finally have the chance to see Barb again. Seems like every time I’ve passed through Kuwait, I’ve missed her. Sure enough, I missed her again. She was on vacation back to the States to see her kids.

What I hadn’t found out until the beginning of November was that Barb was sick. While she was Stateside, she fell ill and was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the final stages. The cancer had metastasized and she had scarce few days left.

Barb passed away on Tuesday of last week. Little did I know back in May that indeed, that would be the last time I’d hug and enjoy discussion with a woman that I was proud to know and count as a mentor to me not only in the lessons of ISO and QC, but in life.

We have lost a beautiful woman who loved life and knew how to live it to the fullest. I can only hope that she has taught me that I need to treat every day as it may be my last and to not be afraid to be brutally honest. Better to have someone dislike you for your honesty than to have them hate you for your deceit and lies.

May God bless and comfort her family in this, their time of loss.
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