It was 1986 and I was a new arrival. I headed for the Commanding Officer’s office to set up an interview with the Captain. I was a tough guy. Hardened by four years at sea, nothing could intimidate me any more.


Except for Ruby. Ruby was the CO’s secretary. Somewhere between the time I opened the door to the inner sanctuary to the time I stood in front of her desk, I lost my nerve.

I think it was her stare.

Or rather, lack of stare because she didn’t even look up. She froze me without uttering a word. When she finally did lift her gaze, she did so down her nose. I was nothing. An interference in the Captain’s full schedule. The confidence that took years to build disappeared in a second. Eventually she allowed me an interview (in a few days), and she didn’t have to ask me to leave. Like a dog on wet linoleum I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

A few years later, I returned to the same command as the Executive Officer. The intimidating woman I remembered was gone. Oh, Ruby was still there, but this time she treated me like family. She took care of everything for me and the Captain. Our schedules hummed along like well-oiled machines. Paperwork came back perfectly formatted and edited.

On slow days I watched the junior officers enter the front office. They seemed intimidated. Oddly, I rarely got interrupted by trivial drop-ins. Phone calls that could be handled by the chain of command never came. Improperly staffed paperwork never crossed my desk.

Ruby wasn’t mean. She wasn’t even unpleasant, let alone an inflexible guardian of the inner sanctum.

She was a superstar.

Perspective is how you look at things from where you sit, and from the XO’s seat things looked pretty rosy to me.

I sometimes wonder how she would have treated me if I came back to visit the command – this time as a visitor. Someone who interrupts the Captain’s busy schedule with a trivial drop-in…

Which is why I didn’t come back until after she retired.


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