The tape measure of life

(Dave Paul, left, retracts the tape measure of life, while Jeff Earle, right, and city operations director Conal Cosgrove, centre, look on.)

Last night’s Brockville council meeting may have included the momentous decision to put the OPP costing to rest, but that was by now means the most gripping part of the meeting.

In fact, the most meaningful moment came closer to the end.

I’ll have more to write, in the next week or so, on the departure of Brockville economic development director Dave Paul, who will retire next Friday after 29 years on the job.

I may opine in this space about the thanklessness of sitting in the Brockville economic development director’s chair at a time when small Eastern Ontario cities faced a broad economic decline.

And I might opine about how it fell to Paul to take the public’s flak for, as Mayor David Henderson put it in his opening remarks last night, not getting Brockville a Toyota plant.

Back when online comments were a thing at The Recorder and Times, Paul sometimes seemed to be the victim of online troll attacks of the kind the current U.S. president and his supporters would later turn into a dark art.

But for now, I want to focus on the measuring tape speech.

For those who don’t know, Paul is Irish, and he’s kissed the Blarney Stone twice.

Not to indulge in stereotypes, but our outgoing economic development director is blessed with a particularly Irish talent not only for spinning yarns, but also for elaborating arguments in ways that can grip the listener.

(If I may start early on the retirement-sendoff roasting: That gift of the gab is the polar opposite of some of the particularly contorted bureaucratese I have come to expect from those reports I refer to as “a Dave Paul Special.”)

Well, Dave was at his yarnspinning best at city council last night when, at the end of the meeting, Henderson invited him to make a few parting comments.

He had plenty of sincere praise for the mayors and city administrators he has served in those three decades – on which, more at a later date.

But Paul took out the measuring tape when discussing his reasons for retiring.

With some help from Councillor Jeff Earle, he unrolled “the tape measure of life.”

Each inch represents a year, a year of your life,” Paul explained.

Blessed with a father who is 91, Paul estimated his range, based on genetics, as somewhere in the mid-80s.

And then you go down to your age now,” he added, pulling the tape in and no longer needing Earle’s help to hold it.

You’ve shrunk a lot,” Paul admitted. “You’ve contracted your whole lifespan.”

I always add a couple more years ’cause I’m Irish and I like single malt,” he quipped.

But then you shrink it one more time in terms of the vitality and lifestyle and energy you may have based on doing the things you want to do, you know, skiing and all the things,” he added.

He held up what looked more like a measuring stub than a measuring tape: The sum, barring unexpected tragedy or bad news, of the years he has left to enjoy skiing, or other activities that require physical vigour.

This is what you’ve got left. With every year that you postpone or procrastinate your retirement you’re taking an inch off or a year off,” he said.

If this is all you’ve got left of your most vibrant years, you know, maybe it’s time to make that decision to move on and do something else.”

At that point, Councillor Phil Deery, who is by all appearances a lot further from retirement age, jokingly got up as if to bolt for the door.

I suspect others in the room felt the same urge, and perhaps not in jest.

As an economic development man, someone who is used to hearing a “No” or a “Maybe” that really means “No” more often than a “Yes,” Paul is by now well-versed in the meaning of limitation.

But his short “tape measure of life” exposition reminds us that the most important limitations are not economic, but temporal.

One hopes that, after next Friday, a few more generous shots of the single malt might at least extend that tape by a few more inches.

And if not, knowing Dave, he might yet Blarney his way into an extension.