One of the gifts I have been given in life is the friendship of some remarkable people who have been kind enough to share their wisdom with me. One of the most remarkable was my friend and mentor, Roy Kite, who died last Friday.
I first met Roy when I was assigned to FEMA as a military reservist in 1989, shortly before the Loma Prieta earthquake. As my division director, Roy activated me during the earthquake and I worked for him for a time as a military officer and then a civilian reservist. He also introduced me to a man who would become one of my best friends, the late Ken Chin. At the end of my tour, Roy looked at me and said quietly, “You know, I have an opening in my division. You should think about applying for it.”
I decided to accept Roy’s invitation and joined FEMA in 1990, a decision that changed not only my profession but my life. Roy became not only my friend but my mentor as well. He helped guide my career and provided me with opportunities to grow as an emergency manager. He taught me some personal lessons as well. Whenever things would get too much for me, I’d seek his counsel. Roy had the gift of remaining calm in any crisis. No matter how angry he got, I never in all our time together heard him raise his voice, use profanity, or berate a subordinate. He taught me the true meaning of “grace under pressure”.
Over the years, I came became part of a very special team – Roy served as the Federal Coordinating Officer, Ken handled administration and logistics, and I was responsible for planning and operations. I’ve lost count of the many disasters we worked together but I think it was something in the neighborhood of fourteen, both large and small. There was a special bond between the three of us and even after we left FEMA we remained close. The last time I saw Roy was at Ken’s funeral, where we toasted our friend and reminisced about “the good old days”.
In my book, I quoted Sir Isaac Newton’s comment about seeing further because he stood on the shoulders of giants. Without a doubt, Roy Kite was one of the giants in my life and I owe him more than I can ever repay. I shall miss him greatly.