A black and white photo of a bird flying solo and away from where he's been. There's water below him and a foggy sky around him.

I’ve been thinking a lot about “lasts” lately, here, seven calendar days from my retirement from the Council on Developmental Disabilities, and the State of Tennessee; from the job I’ve done for the last nineteen years.

In the past two months I’ve attended my last TBI Advisory Council, Special Education Advisory Council, Youth in Transition Advisory Council, and State Family Support Council meetings in my current role.

A little over a month ago was the last State Interagency Coordinating Council for Early Intervention I will Chair.

I recently wrapped up my last data reports for the State and the Federal government.

A few weeks ago I joined my Council colleagues for the last annual Council Retreat, which is also the last quarterly Council meeting I will participate in.

My last presentation as Council staff was on Disability Sensitivity and Awareness, for 180 Vanderbilt Nursing Students and staff.

Last week I attended my last weekly Council staff meeting.

At some point in the next few days I will have my last phone call with a Partners grad or a stranger from the community who needs some help with an education, employment or services issue, as Council staff.

Lots of lasts here.

I put the finishing touches on the last Breaking Ground information issue I will see through to its publication, in early November. I’ve been able to begin work and mostly shepherd the last Annual Breaking Ground Arts Issue, though it will be completed, printed and mailed after I depart. That will be Issue #100, from the time we took the magazine to a whole new level in its graphic design and began counting.

I know and can appreciate all of these lasts. They were on my calendar, and then they happened, and they will happen no more for me. It is a clear line of demarcation; it is a bittersweet line crossing.

But it dawned on me a few days ago that I will not get to experience the “last” of the work that encompassed the bulk of my position here, as director of the Partners in Policymaking® Leadership Institute. Because when the Partners 2018-19 Class graduated in April, I didn’t know it was the last one for me.

I spent May and June organizing and reviewing the 85+ applications we had received for the 2019-20 Class, which would begin September 2019. With the help of three Partners grads and current Council members we culled that 85 down to 37 accepted participants. I sent acceptance letters to those, and the “sorry, but we had so many applicants this year – please apply again” letters to the remaining 50 or so. I hired eight of our most sought-after national speakers to deliver their high-quality presentations to the new Class. I negotiated seven contracts with the hotel. I gathered the information forms from our selected Partners to find out what accommodations they might need at the hotel, and relayed that important information to the hotel staff. The agenda for our September opening weekend was set; draft agendas were on file for the other six sessions.

At the same time, I determined that my days were running out at the Council. After careful consideration, a handful of dark nights of the soul, and many conversations with my wife, Gina, I told our executive director that I was going to retire at the end of this year. That I was happy to do the first three sessions of the 2019-20 Partners Class, and could mentor the person who would be taking my place. That the November 2019 session would be my “last”.

An internal decision was made to cancel the Partners training for this whole year. Council leadership was concerned about the ramifications of changing directors mid-year. There was a little bit of discussion, and some attempts at negotiations on my part to keep the program running, but the decision had been made.

So, unlike the magazine, the meetings with agencies, the final tasks that I could touch, and say goodbye to, I never got to really say goodbye to the Partners program. I didn’t have a “last” Partners session, because the last Partners session I directed was not supposed to be the last.

That is a hole in my heart that lasts.

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  1. Herb Saperstone says

    Thanks for reminding us of our gifts. We don’t always need to wait for others to validate them.

  2. Donna Reagan says

    Hello, Ned. I’m so glad I decided to “google” you and find your presence here. Your writing continues to amaze with its deeply moving honesty. Thank you so much for caring enough to continue to write. May your pen never be silent!

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