THE MIDAS TOUCH
This is the tribute, formally known as a valediction, I wrote on the death of my boss, mentor and friend, Inspector Dave Stevenson, who shone a light into a brighter future for me at some of my darkest moments.
He came into my life in 2006 as an unknown quantity, and proceeded to make an immense positive change to my life, attitude and future. My boss, mentor and friend Inspector Dave Steveson’s death at 47 shocked all that knew and loved this exceptional man. Dave’s family allowed me the honour of being a pall bearer at his funeral.
I’d like to share the valediction I wrote in tribute to this outstanding man.
Valediction to David Andrew Stevenson
– My Boss, My Mentor, My Friend
In 2006 I was a Sergeant at the Queensland Police Academy’s Multimedia Unit and Dave Stevenson became my new Inspector. My first impression of the man was when I walked into the demountable next door, where Dave had an enclosed office. He was seated and reading a document. Through the pane of glass separating us, I saw him look up; a big bear of a man. He looked me in the eyes and I thought, ‘I have had some insensitive managers before, what am I in for with this gorilla of a boss?’ How wrong I was. I had just met the man with the finest interpersonal skills of anyone I have ever known and who would help turn my life around.
On the first of May 2000 I was shot in the face and shoulder whilst on duty, along with Sergeant Chris Mulhall and Constable Sharnelle Harris (née Cole). In 2006 I was still struggling and suffering from the incident, although I did my best to hide this from everyone at work. Senior Sergeant Mark Harvey, who worked directly under Dave, described me at this point in time as a ghost, displaying no emotions and someone who was very difficult to read in relation to what was going on inside me. Dave was someone I was meant to cross paths with – only someone of his calibre could reach through the barrier I had erected between myself and the outside world and help shine a light to guide me to a much brighter future.
In 2008, after a couple of years working under Dave (or as Dave would always humbly phrase it ‘working with him’) my parents wrote to him, thanking him for his care, support and leadership. They sent him a bottle of wine and a letter. The one sentence in that letter, salient in my memory, is when my elderly parents said, ‘Thank you, we could only do so much.’ My parents nursed me through two rounds of invasive re-construction surgery to my mouth (you would not know this to look at me), as well as helping me through the legal minefield of WorkCover and criminal compensation, and the psychological impact and societal pressures and expectations stemming from the shooting. However, the problems, the issues and the insensitive comments I brought home from work and voiced to my parents, they were helpless to deal with other than to listen. Anyone who has children can understand how they felt, helpless and distressed, however they put on a brave face for me. But then along came Dave Stevenson; he stepped up to the mark, he worked hard to build bridges with me so he could provide support, guidance and sagacious advice – he was literally the salvation to my workplace welfare and police career.
How did this occur? My friend Paul Trinder, an Academy firearms instructor and recently promoted Sergeant, began instructing a squad of police recruits in 2006, shortly after Dave arrived at the Academy as an Inspector. Paul thought he’d ask me if I had some wisdom to impart to his recruits from the shooting. When Paul mentioned the idea to his manager, he was emphatically told, ‘Don’t ask Greeny, speak to his boss’. The shooting was the 800 pound gorilla in the room that people skirted around, never wanting to mention. My manager, unsure what to do, went to see Dave, who said, ‘Why don’t we ask Greeny? Empower the man!
I agreed to speak to the recruits and Dave asked me personally if he could attend the presentation on the shooting, saying he thought it may help him be a better manager for me. This was typical Dave, always caring and thinking of others. Dave sat in with the recruits and listened to me speak for a little over an hour. I played an audio of the shooting, drew a diagram on a white board, explained the location of the incident, described how events unfolded and prescribed four lessons I had learnt on my journey after the shooting. Afterwards, I walked with Dave from the presentation back to our work place and he said, ‘Did you notice that when the audio of the shooting was playing I looked at you, watching your reactions to the audio?’ I did not realise this, but this small sentence broke the ice. My previous managerial treatment in relation to the shooting had been very awkward. However, Dave was not going to ignore the welfare of one of his charges; he did not have a ‘too hard basket’ into which I could easily have been placed and forgotten. He genuinely wanted to help me. I was a very tortured individual at this time, and I tried my utmost to hide my feelings and emotions from everyone at work. However, I gave a little on this day as we walked and I said to Dave, ‘Life isn’t too good. There’s not much happiness. My life is made up of commute, work and study.’ This was the beginning of bridges Dave built with me, and which he did with so many people over the course of his life.
I came to a breaking point in late 2006 when the pressures bearing down on me all became too much and an off-handed comment at work led me to crumble inside. I felt I just could not carry on at work anymore. But the bridges Dave built with me drove me to go see him and I shared all what was going on in my life, the medical procedures, the mental anguish of dealing with the shooting, the legal battles, the stress of post-graduate studies, a feeling of being a burden to my parents, depression and the personal depth of worthlessness that I felt I had succumbed to. I knew morale and the functioning of a work unit was a reflection of its manager. I could not just walk away from the work place, the police, my career and allow this to reflect poorly on Dave, as he had simply been the finest boss I have ever had. I went to Dave and he saw I was highly distressed and prompted me towards the steps of an empty demountable building. I told him all of what was going on in my life, the pressures I felt, the struggles I was dealing with – I thought I had nothing to lose, so I told him all.
HAVE DARYL PRESENT AT YOUR EVENT
We sat, talked and he shared a very personal story of a time in his life that caused him much distress and this helped build a strong understanding between us. He then suggested I go home and get involved in something that would take my mind off the day’s events. I did this. I went home and went for a long run. The important thing was, I turned up to work the next day; this was all due to Dave’s skill with people, his caring way and his unique ability to connect with others.
Dave loved his smokes. He would have a cigarette on the Academy oval and invite me out to chat with him when he sensed that I was not travelling so well coping with the effects of the shooting. He never once asked me directly about the shooting. He would simply detect that something was bothering me and would invite me out to the oval where he would smoke and I could talk freely. I would discuss the pressure of the study I was undertaking or an insensitive comment or something else that was troubling me. Dave would just listen to me as he puffed on a cigarette and I unburdened myself to him, and occasionally he offered advice that I remember and live by to this day.
Dave taught me many lessons, both personal and professional – ‘Management is things, leadership is people’. He broke it down and made it very simple. One of the things he would try to do each day at work was to talk with everyone in his work unit for a couple of minutes about something that was not work related, something they had an interest in or were passionate about. Dave would gauge how each person was travelling in life, both inside and outside the police, and this would guide him towards spending a little bit more time with them if he felt that a chat or advice would help. It was uncanny how often he had discussions with people when they really needed it.
It was not just me; everyone who worked with Dave respected him; one of the young Multimedia work unit characters, Serbian born Goran Vukadinovic, out of deference referred to him as ‘Mr Dave’. I was on the Academy oval one day; he smoked whilst I had a chat about what was going on in my life and I asked, ‘Dave, you are the most respected leader I have ever met, what is your secret?’ He responded, ‘Greeny, it is really quite simple, I say please and thank you, and treat people how I would like to be treated’. This simple piece of advice is the most valuable leadership lesson I have ever learnt.
I have studied leadership, but Dave lived it – he was the quintessential supportive leader. In February 2007 I had a three-hour finance exam, which was being held during work time. The Multimedia Unit had a minimum staffing requirement of two people and on the day of my exam, I could not find someone to cover my role. I went to Dave and explained the predicament and what avenues I had tried to resolve the situation, but without success. He said ‘Greeny, don’t worry about it, just go to the exam, I will take care of this.’ I learnt later on what Dave did, he forwarded his phone from his office to the phone at my desk and sat at my desk for the entire day, doing his work and answering inquiries in relation to the Multimedia Unit as they came in throughout the day. This is the finest example of supportive leadership I know of and I am ever so grateful to Dave, not only for what he did, but also for what he taught me about leadership and supporting your people. Another golden piece of advice I saw Dave live by and passed to me was, ‘Never ask anyone you lead to do something you would not do yourself’ – thank you Dave, I never will.
Dave was able to provide worldly advice in the most simple of terms. I was discussing with him in 2007 the commitment and impact of the masters degree in finance I was undertaking with the University of Southern Queensland and how it was affecting my life. He knew why I had started this course of study, that being I had given up on my police career and was working towards leaving the Service. Dave said to me, ‘Greeny, I reached a stage in my life when I said to myself, my divorce has taken a lot, it is not taking my job. Parodi (the gunman who shot me) has taken a lot from you, don’t let him take your job’. These powerful words helped fortify me to complete my study and continue with my policing career. In a little over two years I was promoted to Senior Sergeant. I will forever be grateful for that particular chat and the piece of advice imparted on that day.
Another time I was talking with Dave and he said other words I will never forget. I had just completed my masters degree in finance after five years of part time study and full time work. I stopped Dave on one of the Academy pathways and said, ‘I know I have not been firing on all cylinders over these last few years, I have had a lot on my plate, thank you for your patience and support.’ Dave responded, ‘Greeny, you were worthwhile investing in, you may have noticed, I never once told you what to do, I only made suggestions, but because you acted on those suggestions, I helped a little more each time. You did it mate, I just helped nudge your direction.’
Lastly, Dave taught me to ‘Appreciate the managers in your life who challenge you the most, because these are the people from whom you will learn the most valuable lessons’.
David Andrew Stevenson is one of those incredible people who made a positive powerful difference in peoples’ lives. Dave used the word ‘humble’ sometimes, ‘I am humbled to know you’, ‘I was humbled to speak at your 40th birthday celebration Greeny’, but on these occasions, the man could not have been more wrong. Along with many others, I am humbled to have known and been a part of Dave’s life. After I had left the Academy and was well on my way to a normal life, I was speaking with Dave and he confided in me, ‘Greeny, I used to lie awake in bed at night and try to think how the Commissioner would best want me to help you’ – no Dave, this is why I am humbled to have known you.
I would describe Dave as the type of leader that, if he was lying in no-man’s-land between trenches, regardless of the machine gun fire sweeping the ground around him, the troops would be scrambling to go over-the-top to rescue him, such was the respect and admiration this man inspired.
A day after his passing, a young Senior Constable, Sandrene Trembath, was visiting my current place of work, Policelink, collecting marketing paraphernalia from the centre. Fortuitously she ended up outside my office, saw me and said, ‘You probably won’t remember me, but I saw you at one of your presentations when you talked about how Dave Stevenson helped you. I had not met him previously before you spoke, but I have since worked under him at Metro South and he was everything you said he was, he cared.’ She shed a tear and I was still in shock at his passing at 47 years of age, but we hugged and I knew that Dave’s caring way would continue on in the Queensland Police Service and much further afield.