In praise of substitute referees


Last fall the substitute referees were doing their best for a sport they loved, but every mistake they made was broadcast over and over with ample ridicule.

They had my sympathy.

The one group of people who should have some love for the substitute refs is the regular refs; their value to the league increased with every bad call the substitutes made.

Everyone wanted the regular refs back on the field. That must have made them feel absolutely wonderful. The lowest paid guys on the field who normally have to endure a lot of insults were suddenly valued for their knowledge and skill. What they do for the game was now obvious to one and all.

There are many people in jobs who, to quote the late Rodney Dangerfield, “don’t get no respect” until they are gone. I think that’s a shame.

The first person I think of is Fran Heppenstall.

She worked as a payment processor in a small rural hospital. When I knew her she was nearing retirement and had a wonderful mix of knowledge and common sense that comes with years of experience.

She would set aside her own work to help untangle an insurance or Medicare mess for a co-worker, explain it all patiently and then go back to her work and let her co-worker look like a hero to the patient.

When Fran retired, the problems started piling up. Fran’s supervisor suddenly had a lot more work landing on her desk.

Eventually the management realized it would take two full-time people to replace Fran.

No one previously had understood exactly how much Fran accomplished every day.

She was a 5-foot tall, wisecracking pistol and a proud grandmother. She had a desk back in a quiet corner and was well known for her tomato soup cake and knitted potholders. Fran was one of my favorite co-workers.

Most every organization has people like Fran — employees who have expert knowledge, good judgment and a willingness to step in and help. They keep the work on track and moving.

And they are too often taken for granted.

When I am gathering information about jobs and pay as part of a company audit, there are always a few people and jobs the manager doesn’t know much about. This is just as true for companies with 10 employees as it is for those with 100.

There is equal chance that these people are like Fran and do great work, or they hardly do any work. Either way they need some attention.

If you have a co-worker like Fran who quietly gets things done and keeps the workplace running smoothly, let the boss know and let me know, too.

I would enjoy the opportunity to shine a spotlight on the workers who keep our community humming.

You can nominate someone to be included in a March column about exceptional employees.

Send me an email with a name, the workplace and a brief description of what makes that person stand out to you as a co-worker or a customer.

Virginia Detweiler, based in Walla Walla, provides human resource services and management training to businesses in southeastern Washington with her consulting firm HR Partner on Call. Her columns are written as a service to employers and employees and rely on reader questions and comments for topical material. Contact her by email at or phone at 509-529-1910.


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