Wednesday, June 28, 2017

a life well-shared

Life repeatedly teaches us the same lessons. Sometimes, we learn. Sometimes, we don't.

One of those lessons is that everyone who touches our lives has some lasting effect on us. And that effect may not be apparent until long after they have left our lives.

This morning, I read in The Oregonian of the death of Roberta B. "Robbie" Bocci. I am at that age where I at least scan the obituaries -- just checking if anyone I know has recently died. Inevitably, I see a familiar name. Usually, friends of my mother.

"Robbie" Bocci was not a friend of my mother. She was a woman who briefly slipped past my life in the early 1990s. And, in that passage, there is a story.

I ran for the Oregon legislature in 1988. It was a close-run affair, but, in the end, I lost. I also lost my law partnership.

I was absent from the firm for almost a full year campaigning for a job I probably did not really want. But that absence convinced my law partner that the "and" in "Cotton and Gray" should be erased. We divided up the goods, and I was on my way.

1989 was my wandering year. I briefly opened a practice with a large house-moving firm as my primary client. But, most of the year, I flew around the world acting as an adjunct attorney in various Air Force offices. By the end of that year, I found a job I would keep for the rest of my professional career.

I was just getting my feet on the ground in my new job when I received one of the most dreaded letters an American can receive. The IRS wanted to audit my income tax return for 1989.

That was not a surprise. The IRS always has an eye out for income-dodging professions -- doctors and lawyers are amongst that lot. And my major change in income undoubtedly caused a red flag to raise.

The letter very kindly informed me I could bring my tax preparer with me. Unfortunately, I had prepared my return myself in the false hope of saving money. It was the most difficult return I had ever completed.

So, I gathered up my boxes of records and drove to Portland for the audit appointment. The auditor was "Robbie" Bocci.

She was incredibly professional and thorough. As we walked through my return line by line, she would ask me for any record that supported the amount listed. I discovered my record-keeping had been rather lax.

As she plodded through each entry, I started calculating just how much I was going to owe in taxes. When I went past $10,000, I stopped adding.

She must have known what was going through my head because she very kindly reassured me that this was just a preliminary review and that I could bring in any additional documentation. There was something almost maternal about her approach. I now suspect it was empathic. Her son, with whom I was acquainted, was an attorney.

After almost two hours, I felt drained. But Mrs. Bocci, while retaining her professionalism, kept smiling to let me know, that even if I ended up owing a wad of cash to the federal government, life would go on.

I never did find any additional documents. I just waited for the inevitable dunning letter to arrive in my postal box.

It did. Six months later. As I opened the envelope, I started calculating how I would arrange a payment schedule.

The letter was brief. The audit was complete, and I owed -- nothing. I must have re-read the letter five times before it truly sank in that I was free.

Mrs. Bocci has long been in my memory. She was the perfect public servant. I would like to say I am not so mercenary as to color her memory through the filter of the "no amoiunt due" letter. But I am not. On some things, I can be a very small man.

But, I am also honest enough to remember her as the very essence of fairness. Her virtue was not only one we appreciate in public employees, it is one that we should cherish when we find it in the people who cross our paths daily. They all leave their hand prints on our lives.

To her family, I pass on my condolences. She is a woman to be remembered.

No comments: