Sunday, August 12, 2018

Remembering a lost friend with a troubling story

A recent obituary troubled a reader. The kind remembrances of a colorful local resident were testament to the large imprint the person had left on her community.

But it was a detail in one remembrance, however, that troubled a reader. Apparently, when the deceased chaired the board of a local nonprofit, she and her executive director found themselves up against a ridiculously tight deadline to finish an application for a grant.

They began work at the beginning of the week, hoping to get the materials completed and to the post office so they could get it postmarked by that Friday, as the grant-making organization required. But as the week progressed and Friday arrived, it became clear they weren't going to finish on time and would miss the postmark deadline.

After the executive director told his board chair they wouldn't finish on time, she left the office. Shortly later, she returned and showed him that she had gotten a Pitney Bowes sticker from the post office, which was postmarked Friday.

He told the obituary writer that the board chair was his "type of girl" and that a town where you could get the post office to issue an "illegal" postmark was his "type of town."

A funny story about a beloved friend and community member; undoubtedly, she went out of her way to help her friends and colleagues.

But the reader wondered if such behavior is really the kind of thing that should be condoned, let alone heralded. Granted, it did enable them to get their grant proposal out with the illusion of being on time (even though it was sent out the following Monday) so they could get the grant.

"I'm sure the woman was well-known in town and used her connections to pull some strings," the reader writes. Others likely could not do the same, she observes, but that's not what really bothers her.

"Making light of breaking the law to get what you want doesn't seem right," she writes.

There is nothing wrong with the executive director telling the story as a way to remember an old friend. If it's something that happened between them and he thought it a good anecdote to use to show how they worked together to advance their cause, then his choice was fine, and likely amusing to hear for those who knew her.

What's unclear to my reader -- and to me -- is whether the writer of the obituary checked the facts of the executive director's story to make sure it really happened as he told the obituary writer. Occasionally, old stories take on details that might not have happened exactly as they remembered decades later when reminiscing over a dear, old friend.

Was it right to try to fabricate the postmark to make it look like the package went out before it did -- if that is indeed what happened? No. The right thing would have been to work as hard as they could and try to meet the deadline set by the granting institution. If they missed it, then they could commiserate with others who missed it as well and didn't have a malleable post office worker to enlist for help. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 


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