Opinion and Notions

HETTRICK: An annual report on the mixed blessing of 2010

December 25, 2010

When I was 35,

It was a very good year.

It was a very good year

For blue-blooded girls

Of independent means.

We’d ride in limousines.

Their chauffeurs would drive,

When I was 35.

—From “It Was a Very Good Year,” as popularized by Frank Sinatra



A few weeks ago, my chief financial officer and I met with our company’s accountant. The topic was year-end tax planning.

The verdict was no surprise: We lost money.

Given recent economic trends, the context wasn’t a surprise, either: Many of the accounting firm’s other clients lost money, too.

With many firms struggling in a down economy, our city, state and nation find themselves with high unemployment rates, a glut of empty real estate, and dwindling tax revenue.

And while demand for human services is up, many of my friends in the not-for-profit arena tell me they’re struggling for contributions to their annual campaigns and year-end appeals.

When I was 53, it was not a very good year.

It was not a good year on the personal front, either. Two men I’ve known for a long time—one nearly my entire life—committed suicide in 2010.

Two women I know lost their husbands to cancer—a prolonged and painful demise.

Another friend lost her husband in an auto accident just a few weeks ago.

The shock and sadness of these people’s deaths reverberates still through the friends and families who loved them—and permeates the paths along which they walk.

When I was 53, it was not a very good year.

It was not a very good year for public policy in my hometown and home state.

A year after proven health hazards led to FDA regulation of tobacco products at the federal level—and in the wake of yet another U.S. Surgeon General’s report citing the danger of even a single cigarette or whiff of secondhand smoke—Indianapolis and Indiana failed once again to pass laws that protect all workers in all workplaces from harmful tobacco smoke.

We now find ourselves slipping behind most U.S. states and the vast majority of world-class cities in protecting workers’ health.

When I was 53, it was not a very good year. On the other hand …

Those in my employ got to promote health and fitness, transportation and logistics, higher education and medicine, economic development and philanthropy, public policy and international relations.

For people who want to change the world, there are far worse ways to make a living!

When I was 53, it was a very good year.

In a world fraught with staggeringly high unemployment—especially among recent college graduates—both of my 22-year-old sons have jobs.

This past weekend, Austin graduated with honors from the University of Wisconsin. While I gave him the tongue-in-cheek razz about earning an English degree (like the ones that have served well his stepmother and me), Austin’s already parlayed his into applications for graduate school, law school, and a full-time job with a Madison marketing firm while he decides what’s next.

Meanwhile, Austin’s twin brother, Zach, went full time as a commercial photographer just two years into his college career. Nowadays, he shoots for a living while finishing his degree part time. And when he’s not working, learning, biking or running, he’s volunteering for Big Brothers/Big Sisters.

When I was 53, it was a very good year.

Despite partisan wrangling and tightened purse strings at the local, state and federal levels, I live in a nation where, with a few exceptions, we more often than not seem to care for one another and the world around us.

Thanks to health-insurance reform, for example, young people may now stay on their parents’ health policies through age 26.

Thanks to government, volunteer and charitable efforts, people in Haiti have a neighbor willing to come to their rescue after a major disaster.

Thanks to bipartisan congressional action to end a policy that encouraged lying and deception (“don’t ask, don’t tell”), we’ve eliminated one of the last great bastions of discrimination in the U.S. military.

Thanks to the generosity of millions of Americans who donate and volunteer for health and human-service agencies, educational organizations and myriad other causes, government need not go it alone when serving others.

When I was 53, it was a very good year.

Long ago, I played a character role in a show called “You Can’t Take it With You.”

Near the end, the family’s grandfather offers up a prayer.

“Well, Sir, here we are again,” he says. “We’ve had quite a time of it lately, but it seems that the worst of it is over. … Anyway, everything’s turned out fine, as it usually does.”

He runs through a litany of omens good and bad, then suggests: “We’ve all got our health; as far as anything else is concerned, we still leave that up to you.”

And so we do. And so we will. And with any luck, when I’m 54, it will be a better year for all.•

__________

Hetrick is chairman and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears twice a month. He can be reached at bhetrick@ibj.com.

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