The Sad and Untimely Demise of Captain Richard Head


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Before I went onto full time LTD and SSDI, I had my DREAM job. I was the first female part owner/VP Human Resources for an American Ship Repair Yard. We employed over 2,500 employees; 24/7 operations; 11 unions, and lots of turmoil!!!

My agreement with the Managers who fixed ships was simple: I did people; they did big metal “things".

It was a rainy Wednesday, end of October night - around 8:00 pm. We had a ship in for repair with an English Capt. , Head, and his wife aboard (they traveled the world together). They were out for a stroll, and, for whatever reason, were walking down the middle of the one way street leading out of the Ship Repair Yard. 8 pm is “lunch time" for Swing Shift; and, they only get 30 minutes.

A young man working in the Yard for a Contractor came tearing out of the yard going way over the speed limit, trying to drive while wiping the windshield. He felt a thud, and stopped the car - only to discover that he had hit and, regretably killed - Capt. Head. I got a call at home about 3 am to come into the Yard and “deal" with the situation, since I did “people". I came in, dealt with the police, the grieving widow, the hospital, etc. Got the widow into a downtown hotel; contacted her family in England and arranged to get them tickets to fly over to stay with her; went home for a few hours of sleep.

Now remember, the customer is always right. So, the next day, Thursday, I met with the family, and the widow wanted to have an open casket, full Catholic Mass, Memorial Service, the next day, in the Yard, so that the Ship's company could say one last good-by to the Capt. I had already priced caskets, embalming, cremation, etc. , and when I started to convey the information to the family, the “Ship's Representative" - our “customer" said: “They no pay; you pay!"

I thought OK, but I wonder what Accounting was going to think when they saw my next month's VISA statement wherein I charged a casket, embalming, and cremation onto it!!!!!

I leave the family; make arrangements with the Funeral Parlor to prepare the Capt. for the service the next evening - Friday - for a 6 pm service. Now, the only place within the Yard suitable for the service was a nice room off of our Company Cafeteria. And, the only door wide enough to accept a coffin was the one that would lead the coffin through the kitchen. So, I had to call the State Health Dept. to make sure that I wasn't violating any health codes by wheeling a casket through the kitchen (and I wasn't as long as the body was embalmed).

Now, that Friday, as luck would have it, was Halloween. And, remember this is a rough and tumble, grubby ship repair Yard!! Just years before the yard would host Halloween parties with an open casket filled with ice and booze! And, even though we were kinder and gentler now, I didn't want the Swing Shift to see a group in the all windowed room off of the Cafeteria with an open casket! So, we purchased and figured out how to hang drapes.

Then, I remembered that I needed to find a Priest! Took a while to find one at the last minute~ It is finally Friday, around noon. I panic, remembering that I don't have any appropriate “funeral Catholic Mass" music to play, and run to the nearest Mall's music shop. I ask for funeral music, forgetting, momentarily that it is Halloween, and the clerk tries to sell me the Monster Mash. I explain and get the correct music; get back to the Yard and get the room set up for the Service. Dash home to change clothes; dash back to the Yard, where I remembered that I had to pay the Priest for his services!!

So, I dash to Accounting and ask for a check made out to the Priest, and receive the wierdiest looks - until I remembered that not all folks working in the Yard knew about the upcoming Memorial Service.

Get back to the room; all arrive and the Service begins. Now, I hope you realize how serious an event this is. I had preped the Priest, that the Capt. 's name was Richard Head. But his family came from the UK, and they insisted in calling him, throughout the service by his nickname, Dick. I was horrified when folks in the service put the two names together, in “American slang", and started snickering. Well, we got through the Service; we had arranged for light food afterwards, and the evening ended, with all satisfied.

Observations: first of all, I challenge any other HR Executive to have this type of task to perform! Second of all, this is a True Story! Only in an American Ship Repair Yard can you have a full Catholic Mass Memorial Service for Capt. Dick Head on Halloween.


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