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Happy Retirement Pat Sweeny!

In a previous life, I was an active member of the West Michigan Shores Chapter of the STC. I met a lot of really cool people there and learned a lot about what it meant to be not just a technical writer, but more about how technical writers can break out of the mold and accomplish things.

One of the people who did that was Pat Sweeny. Pat is (or was, by this point) the President and owner of The Bishop Company, a contract do-it-all house; they document, streamline and illustrate your process, and they do it damn well. Pat was one of the first people in that chapter to "get it", which is to say, he and his company understand that technical writing isn't going to be a department for very much longer, it's going to be a business.

He had the foresight to actually make it a business, but he also had something else. Pat was forever trying to better those around him. He would come to meetings (which was a big step beyond most people) and teach you things. Or he would come to meetings and pose questions that might put you just out of your comfort zone professionally.

Pat challenged me personally to get involved in the chapter very early in my membership, partly because the membership wasn't very active. But I took to it (oddly) and actually became fairly active, serving as the Secretary and almost serving as President. I can't give all the credit to Pat (I'm looking at you DrSandy), but Pat was a prominent member of a core group that sustained the chapter almost by their shear will.

Last night, he received the STC's Distinguished Service Award (PDF) during what I'm told was a roast (I found about it almost 6 hours before the meeting, so I wasn't able to attend). Pat Sweeny has earned this award so many times over, it makes you wish the plaque came with one of those huge checks, too. Congratulations, Pat, it was a pleasure to serve the chapter with you, and I hope we can have a drink sometime this summer.

Since I couldn’t be there, I sent a piece to be read in my place. I've put the text after the fold.

Ode to a semi-retired explainer

(Disclaimer: I was told this is a roast; any jokes deemed offensive, unfunny, or out of place are the fault of the orator and not the author.)

I heard—at the last minute—that Pat was getting his due,

scratch that, getting honored

scratch that too. Start over.

I heard that Pat was receiving an award tonight. I thought to myself, “Self, don’t you think that Pat is sick of awards by now?” Obviously he isn’t if he’s still in the room, which just shows you how egotistical and megalomaniacal he actually is. You see, Pat is one of these people who just can’t stop doing stuff. He’s always running around, telling people about all these things they didn’t know when they got there that night. Take me, for instance. Before I met Pat, there were literally tens of things I didn’t know. Since I’ve met Pat, he’s informed me that there are, in fact, dozens of things I don’t know.

He’s even alluded to the fact that there may be up to 50 things I don’t know. He doesn’t actually say “Ryan, you don’t know X, Y and Z.” Oh no. Pat has to go and make presentations and comments and just be a general you-don’t-know-it-all. Then, when you leave his company, you start wondering about that subject, and you realize a few things. Most of these things center around all the other things you now know you don’t know, but you’re wondering just the same and it’s annoying.

You then go out in an effort to rid yourself of the annoyance and learn many things about that particular subject so that, when you meet with Pat again, you can take him down a peg or two. You surf the web, you go to the library (or Barnes and Noble) and read lots of stuff. You then meet Pat again. As you lay out your well-thought out arguments and facts, he nods, hands folded in front of him, soaking in all your cute, sub-Pat level understanding.

(look at him now! He’s doing it now! Ok, perhaps not, but that is the disadvantage of being there on paper and not in person).

But when he’s done nodding and saying “Mmmm, mmm”, he begins to tell you the remaining portions that he a) didn’t tell you about the first time, even though he had the opportunity and b) you didn’t bother to look up yourself. Then, like a very, very old grandfatherly type, he pats you on the head as if to say “that was a nice try. You want a cookie for your efforts?” OK, he doesn’t actually do that, but you feel like you should have tried so much harder or at least received a cookie.

It’s then that you realize, he knew all along. He just didn’t share this information with you because he wanted you to go out and look something up. He wanted you to think about that subject. And, yes, he wanted you to come back just so he could let you in on all the things you still don’t know.

Ok, maybe I made that last part up. Maybe, in fact, I made much of the preceding statements up. (For the record, there are less than 40 things I do not know. Ask Pat.)

The fact of the matter is this: Pat is obviously not sick of getting awards. No, wait, sorry, I covered that already.

In all seriousness, congratulations Pat. Like a few others in the room tonight, you have earned this award and all the awards you have received many times over. Much of the credit (or blame, depending on your perspective) for my involvement with the Society and Chapter goes to (or lies with) you. The challenges you put to me made me try, which isn’t always easy to do (both the trying and the motivation to do so). Your passion for what you do was inspirational at times, mind-boggling at other times, but always a touch point for what one can become if they really put their heart into their career.

Silly people always say “Do what you love.” These people are silly because they don’t know anyone who actually does what they love, nor do they do themselves what they love, mostly because they stand on street corners telling other what to do. You, Pat, don’t have to tell people to do what they love. You have a much better testimony; you show them what it’s like to do something you love.

Either that, or you’re a really, really good actor. Regardless, you deserve not only this award, but the thanks of many of us in the room—both on paper and in person—for constantly reminding us that you don’t get to stop when you’re comfortable. So, before I suck up more time or Sandy sobers up, a heartfelt congratulations and happy (semi) retirement!


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