Working as a Wal Mart greeter doesn’t score very highly when our world ranks its list of prestigious vocations. Using society’s same value system, being a school custodian doesn’t fare much better.
Over the last 35 years of his working life, Nigel was a man who held both jobs. One hundred and twenty mourners filled every seat at a local funeral home on Saturday to say goodbye. They came to honour the memory of a man whose life and chosen vocations, despite popular stereotypes, did possess abundant value, purpose and meaning.
Nigel began his employment with the Bluewater District School Board in 1985. He worked at Saugeen Central Public School and later Saugeen District Secondary School, both in Port Elgin. On retirement, he decided to become a part time Wal Mart greeter in the same community.
When I officiated his funeral Saturday, I could have used the abstract language of sociology to describe Nigel’s role in these complex organizations: job descriptions, hierarchical structures, roles and function, community interactions. Instead, I wisely chose to let those whose lives he touched just speak for themselves. I did so by reading excepts from their written condolences and emails. Here are fragments of what I shared with the mourners: some memories from Nigel’s family, his friends, work colleagues, golf buddies, teachers and support staff and most of all, from those many past students whose path Nigel had once crossed.
“I remember the first time I met him. It was my first day at a new school. He welcomed me and helped me find my classroom. He was the sweetest and kindest person I had ever met. One day after a friend had suddenly died, I was crying in the hallway and Nigel came over, gave me a big hug and just listened.”
“I was a bullied kid in school. Nigel always found something for me to do at recess so I could avoid the bullies. As I got older and went to high school, he was there to brighten our halls. Later on, I saw him around town and he would ask me how college was going. Years later, I moved back to Port Elgin and encountered him at Wal Mart. When I entered the store with my toddler and baby, he filled me with positivity and even watched my baby while I took the older child to the washroom.”
“He was there for me on a snow day when I went to school because I forgot to listen to the radio that said our school was closed. Thank you for always smiling. You really made a difference in the world.”
“His smile could light up a room.”
“My worst days in this past year were made bearable by your smile.”
“He had a way of making everyone around him feel special.”
“He was one of my biggest role models and I will do my best to make him proud as I go through life.”
As we honoured Nigel’s life on Saturday, we were reminded that each one of us can also make some positive difference in our world, by shining a light wherever we are placed. As we approach Valentine’s Day, perhaps that is the best definition of love.