In Memorium: Legacy of a Wonderful President - Jean Critchley
Mortality is a visitor I do not take very kindly to.
It is not a fair businessman.
Of its own free accord it will swipe your prized possessions;
those people in your life whom you have come to love and depend upon.
In exchange it leaves you with raw anguish, loss, confusion, anger, fear, insecurity and a relentless emptiness.
On the 1st January 2015, mortality took away a friend of mine...
she was a friend to all at Mentone Public Library.
Mortality took Jean Critchley; long-term president of our Library.
What left me most heart-broken, was the subtlety in which it did so...we at Mentone Public Library might never have known of her passing, had I not accidentally flipped the paper to the Obituary section during lunch in a cafe on a beautiful summer afternoon - a beautiful day to be alive.
Upon reflection, her quiet departure made sense - for that was Jean's way. Jean was the quiet achiever who never sought to make waves. She was a support, a good leader, a tactful manager of people and their moods, her finger always on the pulse.
She was...a true friend. Kind, compassionate, earnest and always caring.
Though she has left our library for good, her presence will always be felt within our venue.
Jean was appointed president of Mentone Public Library in 1991. To be accurate, Jean was tricked into the position. Encouraged by an existing member to come along to the Annual General Meeting to meet the team, when it came time to elect the new committee, Jean's friend nominated her for President! Startled, her shock was solidified when the vote was favoured by all in the room!
Rather than protest or bolt, Jean reassured the committee that she would accept the position provided it was just for one term....Jean's term ended twenty-one years later in 2012. In all truth, had Jean not started to struggle with her health we would have let her carry on indefinitely.
I met Jean on a 40+ degree celsius afternoon on Saturday, 7th February 2009. It was a day of endless screaming ambulances and fire trucks. Unbeknownst to us during our meeting, Black Saturday was unfolding; Melbourne's most devastating bushfires on record.
Despite the sweltering chaos outside, Jean's focus was only on me, and why a recent library graduate would want to work in a library that still used card catalogues and did not have a single computer in sight. The logical side of my brain was questioning me too...and truthfully, while it was career ambition that brought me to the library, it was Jean Critchley that made me want to stay, and it was the homely ambiance of Mentone Public Library that solidified my wish to volunteer.
With Jean, I found I could easily open up to her and share a laugh. There was never any pretense with her. You had her undivided attention and concern. Jean never professed to have the answers, but being such a wonderful listener made her into a superb advisor whose quiet strength always found results.
2010 marked Mentone Public Library's 85th anniversary. Jean allowed me to step in and coordinate preparations and the event itself. After only one year, Jean, always humble and able to see the essence of people, put her trust in me and gave me the honour. To have someone believe in me like that, fueled a kind of confidence in me I did not know I possessed. With Jean, I never found cause to second-guess myself. Under Jean's guidance and support, I always knew it was possible.
My last outing with Jean was mid January 2013 - this was during yet another transition in my life - I was about to begin a new managerial position in a library. I was excited and terrified. I sought guidance. This last outing was not easy; Jean's condition had significantly worsened. It was a hard reality to face that in taking Jean out I was compromising her health...but what was even harder was that I could no longer confide in my friend and receive her wonderful advice, warmth and humour. Her condition would not allow it. In essence, I said goodbye to Jean on this day...it was the last time I ever saw or spoke to her.
When I read the advertisement about Jean's passing and her funeral, it triggered a memory in me - a statement I had not thought about since 2010 when Jean made her president's speech on the morning of our 85th anniversary to the public - a day attended by sixty members of the community. In her speech, Jean made a joke that she was glad I took on the role of coordinator for the event and spared her the enormous task...and that she hoped I would stick around to join her in celebrating the library's 90th anniversary and coordinating once more. Little did either of us know at the time, that we would not be in the room together again to celebrate the milestone in 2015.
To my dear friend Jean, though you will not be in the space with us on Saturday, 30th May 2015, there will still be a seat set aside for you in your honour. Please do not worry about the library's future - your successor is a wonderful president. Tony emulates your very qualities. You can be very proud of him.
I will miss you forever.