Author: Cornish, Rick

Phil Jones

Good rainy morning from Whiskey Creek, where by now we’ve memorized our polite if a little business-like ‘thanks but no thanks’ replies to the scores of insurance brokers who call each day wishing Richard a happy sixty-fifth birthday and wondering aloud if he’s made any decisions yet about what type of supplemental insurance he’ll be purchasing next month when he jumps on the Medicare train. We tell them honestly that we have, in fact, made that important decision, thank them for the birthday wish and let them know that presents will be accepted with the deepest of gratitude…(size double x, favorite color, red, favorite music, bluegrass, please, no sweets or potpourris.)

One day last week it took Lynn and I about twenty minutes to drive to the little town of Standard where we'd keep our appointment with the person at the Council on Aging whose job it would be to help us ease me into Medicare. As we climbed up Highway 108 toward the snow line I told my wife that I was struggling to think of an experience in my life that compared to this one. When in my nearly 65 years had I a formal sit-down with a professional who would help me transition into the next big phase of my life? Maybe the session in 1965 with my high school counselor, Mr. Thornton, when he tried to convince me to 'find a nice vocation, something you enjoy doing with your hands'. Or the meeting with the Baptist minister who went over his 12-point "Road to a Happy Marriage" list with my first wife and I a few days before we tied the knot. Sitting there in the passenger seat, looking out at the dreary, overcast skies, I found myself hoping that the Medicare counselor would have better luck with me than Mr. Thornton or Pastor Jimmy.
For whatever reason, both Lynn and I had expected that we’d be meeting with a woman, so it was a surprise when we were greeted by a distinguished looking man with a shock of thick white hair, a plaid sport coat, no tie, and a broad and confident smile. “Hello there, my name is Phil Jones. That’s one ‘l’, not two.” We sat down, Phil Jones closed the door to his tiny office and, sitting down across from us at his oak-veneered desk and looking every bit like a top executive at a Fortune Five Hundred company, he opened the file labeled Cornish, Richard.

And here’s the interesting thing—I actually did learn something during the ninety-minutes that would help with the transitioning challenge at hand, and it didn’t have anything to do with Medicare. Not that Phil Jones didn’t succeed in meeting his charge…he gave us all the information we needed to make the insurance choices, fill out the paper work, meet the various deadlines and he did it in an effortless and very professional way. But I knew that would happen, one way or another we’d get what we needed at the Council on Aging, and besides, it was Lynn who was getting the in-service…she’d be the one doing the heavy lifting and making it all happen. No, as we’d driven up to Standard that morning I was really hoping for something more from the counseling session, something that I had no right or reason to expect would be on the agency’s menu of services. I wanted someone to tell me how to grow old with a little grace.

Phil Jones was, in a word, masterful, a real crackerjack. He had a game plan for getting us through the mountain of information, but remained flexible as we broke in with questions. His knowledge of Medicare and its latest legislative changes, as well as likely coming changes, was up to the minute, but he had a disarming and folksy way of laying it all out. And he read his audience like a mental telepathist, anticipating our questions and sensing the areas where we had the greatest worries.

Phil Jones was so utterly adroit at what he was doing, in fact, that at one point I interrupted him in mid sentence and just sort of blurted out, “So, like, Phil, how long have you had this job? You’ve got it down, man.”

“Oh,” he said, “this isn’t really a job. I volunteer here.”

“You do this VOLUNTARILY? Sit with clueless old folks like us, explain excruciatingly complex federal statutes, stay on top of the most current offerings of four or five dozen insurance companies? Why in God’s name would anyone volunteer to do that?” I asked with unapologetic astonishment. “I’d just as soon volunteer for a job of daily root canals.”

Phil Jones laughed. “Well,” he said, “it’s what I do. I spent my career in HR…at Intel, later at a chain of savings and loans, and finished up as the head of personnel at the Radisson Hotel in Sacramento.”

“But, by now you must be…”

“Sick of it after forty years? No, not really. Helping people plan for their future is what I do best, and doing what I do best gives me satisfaction. And I’m giving back, you know? Oh, and it’s not a daily root canal…I only volunteer one day a week.”

“Well,” I said shaking my head, “I still don’t get it.”

“Oh,” said Lynn, her words dripping with sarcasm, “my husband can’t relate to volunteerism, Phil. Go ahead, Rick, tell Phil how you spent the first two and a half hours of your morning. You know, the way you spend every single morning.”

“Oh,” I said and chuckled. “Right.”

Posted:  11/29/2012

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