It was Benjamin Franklin who said "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes".
I had started an article some time ago (for this week's issue) on the soon to be presented findings of the Tax Working Group, however the crystallisation of the other certainty mentioned by Franklin has sidelined that article for a future week.
Last week, learning about the passing of a school friend brought into stark relief that, no matter what your age life is both too short and precious. And, later, on learning of the passing of Sue Westwood there was more sadness but gratefulness that I had the opportunity to work with such a titan of community service and governance.
This article is dedicated to Sue.
I was unfortunately unable to attend her memorial event at the Golf Course on Saturday because – and you could say I was following her sage instruction, I was investing time in my family (Sue ended most conversations with 'Russell, you work too hard and your family must come first').
Such instruction was direct and that directness is among the things that I appreciated most in the short time that I had the opportunity of working with her. So, in a small way I think that she would be happy that her guidance was being followed.
I can imagine that the memorial service was punctuated by well-deserved tributes and recognition of her dedication to this community and its foundations. Any and all compliments and tributes are richly deserved.
The reason I know this is that our conversations often developed into recounts of her involvement and governance over a long period in which some of Whanganui's landmark decisions and events occurred.
I remarked to her on one occasion that she needed to write memoirs, if for nothing else that such a wealth of knowledge would not be lost – I hope that such a project had started.
But it is those of us who regard her as a mentor that carry forward a part of her legacy. I understand that she counselled our current Mayor and other councillors over the years.
For me, I would count her among the best proponents of governance and process that I have encountered.
Sue would have been comfortable and added value to many of the Board and audit and risk committees that I have worked with – and that includes major infrastructure and power companies and multinationals.
This was recognised and she Chaired and contributed to a number of audit and risk committees as well as holding governance appointments (her long tenure on the District Council being among them).
Sue Westwood was a leader in Whanganui in the truest sense but, importantly, humble with it. I firmly believe that she sought out opportunities at governance level because she wanted to advance the community and contribute.
But more importantly her humility meant that she was constantly open to learning – even after she retired from Council in 2016. I, as one of many, valued her counsel and learned much from her in the all too short time that I had the opportunity to work with her.
My last conversation with Sue, some weeks ago, was a robust discussion on governance – as many of our conversations were – but punctuated with the following statement:
"Mr Bell, I enjoy these conversations because I think we both understand what is required [to be effective in risk management and governance]. But there must be process otherwise, as history shows, without it issues happen and lessons need to be learned again. But what do I know? Now go home to your wife before she declares you a missing person."
You pretty much knew it all Sue.
You will be missed.
Balance Consulting is a Whanganui consultancy specialising in business strategy, process excellence and leadership mentoring — contact Russell Bell on 021 2442421 or John Taylor on 027 4995872