Continuing to be a legacy

11 Jul, 2017 | Ireland
Hannah Rueber
OM Ireland Journalist Hannah Rueber had the opportunity to interview Jean Giff, one of George Verwers earliest secretaries.
OM Ireland's journalist, Hannah Rueber, shares about a meaningful interview with "Miss Jean", a former secretary of OM founder George Verwer:

She didn’t remember that I was coming, but she still asked if she could put the kettle on for tea as soon as I entered the room. Shuffling about in her blue slippers and robe, Miss Jean seemed more happy to see a guest than worried about her morning attire.

I had called to ask her about her time working for George Verwer. She needed some time to think and recall, so I waited for her to call me back. Thankfully, she remembered to do that. When she did finally call, she invited me to come see her so “we could talk about George.”

A dreary, rain-threatening sky covered Ireland when I grabbed the office photographer and ventured out for the interview. Miss Jean smiled and welcomed us into her little apartment. I could tell that she didn’t recognize my voice, but she still told me to come and sit. While the kettle boiled, she shuffled around the living room to move her little cart closer to my chair so I could have the tea close at hand.

I sat on a cushioned chair, my voice recorder inconspicuously balancing on my knee.

Miss Jean leaned back in her chair, resembling my late grandmother so much that I swallowed back tears.

“So,” she said while looking me in the eyes, “you want to hear about George.” She held a folded piece of paper in her trembling hand. As she slowly unfolded it, I could see that the other side was covered in writing. She must have thought to write down her memories before she forgot them once again. She looked down at her paper and smiled. After a moment, she began to read what she had written.

“Someone had found a carpenter to make a desk for George by the window. A beautiful, long desk; loads of storage. But he never sat at it. He told me that it was to be my desk. He sat in the centre of the room at a moldy old card table with piles of papers to sort out. Typical, kind George Verwer.”

There was a slow, reminiscing crack in her voice. Whether from age or emotion I could not quite tell. Her papery-thin skin and white wispy hair certainly testified of many faithful years of service.

I had prepared so many questions for George Verwer’s former secretary.

Miss Jean couldn’t remember certain details, such as how long she’d worked with George or even how old she’d been when she started that role. It became clear that she wouldn’t be able to answer most of the questions I had in mind. After one question, she shook her head slowly.

“Oh, I don’t remember things like that any more. Some days, I struggle to remember my own name.” That gave me pause. I took a moment to ask myself, Do you need the answers to your questions? Why not let her share?

The paper fluttered open again, having folded over some time during the last few minutes. “He lived on skates, George did. He would come to me and say, 'Well, I’m off to India in the morning…about 5am.’ And that would be that. George was always rushing here and rushing there. It was quite a life.”

I admired the faint smile that touched her face. The smile faded to a dismissive shrug. “I miss it. I don’t like sitting here like this, but I can’t keep up like I used to. But I can pray…that’s what I can do since I can’t be out there.”

She glanced at the teacup in my hand. “That tea must be stone cold by now!”

I’d spent so much time listening that I forgot to drink the tea she’d been so insistent to make for me. Thankfully, the tea had been scalding hot when initially poured and the cup held the heat well.

She turned toward her window. The sunlight outlined her profile and created a sort of glowing haze about her head. “George was a wonderful man to work for. One day as I came into the office, there was a man in the hallway without a coat on a very cold day. I mentioned it to G.V. He jumped up, took his jacket off his chair, and told me to give it to the man. I did, and he (the man) had tears in his eyes as the warm jacket fitted him perfectly.”

Miss Jean smiled as I took a long sip of tea. “The first time I made him a hot drink, he told me he liked five spoons of sugar in it! Five spoons of sugar, I tell you!”

She’d run out of stories on her paper now. She seemed at a loss of what to say next and embarrassed that her memory wasn’t better. I waved toward the wall of her living room that was covered with pictures and posters of different kinds of dogs. “You must love dogs.”

“Oh, yes. I had a dog once.” She pointed to a stuffed toy dog that sat beside her arm chair. Its head was poised just below the armrest. “That’s the only dog I’m allowed to have now. Poor thing. Its tongue—sticking out like that—is all faded by the sun. It used to be dark red, you know.”

I thought about that for a moment, a symbol of her beloved pet that never left her side and endured the harsh rays of sun day after day. Years later, faded and worn, the dog still served its purpose.

That dog reminded me of Miss Jean. Here she was, a bit faded and worn and stuck in one place, yet serving a specific purpose. She’d said it herself: she prayed for those “out there.” Even while wishing for days past, she accepted her new role of prayer warrior with determination.

“I always say ‘Do what you can when you can with what you have.’ That’s motto.”

I hated to leave Miss Jean. She wouldn’t remember that I was there, but she’d touched a young missionary’s life in a way that she would never see.

As I wandered on the beach near Miss Jean’s nursing home, I could only marvel how I had come to be blessed by even a short visit with such a dedicated servant of God. She had been to 33 different countries with George, yet returned to her Ireland birthplace until the time when God called her home.

I told myself that I wanted to carry on her motto…to do what I could when I could with whatever I had.

Sometimes, that may mean putting the kettle on for a visitor.

Credit: Hannah Rueber · © 2017 OM International This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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