Please allow me to introduce you to someone who has helped me tremendously while doing my ‘day job’ as a public information officer for Pinellas County.
His name is Len Ciecieznski, and we worked side by side for the past 15 years. My first memory of Len was actually before I started at the Communications department. Back in the summer of 1996, he escorted a busload of citizens through the Property Appraiser’s office when I worked over there. And, in 1998 when I accepted my current job at Communications, he was the first staff member to come to my office to ask if I had lost my mind, giving up my office with a huge picture window to work in a place where I was going to be sitting in a tiny cubicle.
Since those early days, we have worked on all types of projects – from the serious to the downright silly. I remember the Y2K activation of the Emergency Operations Center with Len, and I can remember the long, tense six-weeks of the 2004 Hurricane Season, which saw PInellas County threatened by four hurricanes. Len flourished on TV. His butter-smooth voice and friendly presence led him to become the voice of the county. Whenever we planned a major event in our TV studio, Len was there, serving as the glue that held everything together.
He often lent his talents for other projects, such as this media training video we did 11 years ago. It still holds up as well now as it did when it first aired.
The event I will ever remember Len for, however, was called Pinellas Honors America. Just two weeks after the 9/11 attacks, our office orchestrated a huge event outside of the county courthouse for people to come to pay tribute to the survivors of the attacks in New York, Washington D.C. and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and to remember those who lost their lives. With Len’s leadership, the team of Public Information Officers were able to pull off a small miracle of cooperation to put on an event that people to this day remember vividly.
This past November, Len announced that he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. This is a very aggressive form of the disease, and as he bid his last farewells that day, no one – especially Len – knew what to expect. Chemotherapy. Operations. Radiation treatment. He has weathered the storm, going to battle every day to fight the odds and beat this disease.
A few months ago, he announced that he was retiring from the county. We all quickly decided that someone who had given so much for the county couldn’t be sent off quietly. So, we decided to dedicate the studio to him. I volunteered to build a commemorative plaque for him.
Centering the design around the studio’s On Air light, I stuck with the golden oak used to hold that to the wall. It was made with a pair of bookmatched boards, with a cut out for the On Air light to protrude through. I used breadboard edges on the top and bottom to prevent any warping, and the shelf that the microphone rests on is attached using a sliding dovetail joint. It is glued only on the end behind the microphone to allow for wood movement.
This past Friday, Len and his family returned to the office for the first time since he left that November day. We had a big luncheon for the staff, and after that, we showed a video clip of some of his best work. Len had the energy to deliver some very funny remarks to remind us of the spirit he brought to work every day.
Then it was my turn. I got up and reminded everyone of the times we worked together. Other colleagues got up to say a few words as well. Then, we unveiled the plaque. Both Len and I fought back the tears. As I handed it over, I read the inscription I had put on the back of the plaque. It had so much meaning, I needed for him to hear it from me directly:
To Len – My mentor. Colleague. And Friend.
After some group photos, Len and his family followed me out to the hallway to mount the plaque in its permanent location. From now on, anyone entering that studio will be able to draw from the spirit and energy Len brought to everything he did. This was, by far, the most rewarding project I have ever built.