Two Years Ago, I Lost the First Ethics and Compliance Officer I Ever Knew. I Called her Mom.

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By Jodi L. O’Neill, CCEP
Deputy Compliance Officer – Indiana Public Retirement System (INPRS)

She didn’t bear a formal title like Deputy Compliance Officer. She didn’t have an office in a high rise. She didn’t get paid to teach me morals and values. But what she did for me will last long after any job or title, location or pay. She rooted in me “do the right thing even when the right thing is hard to do” and “at the end of the day you have to be able to look at yourself in the mirror.”

She was the first person to teach me to understand all the facts, tell the truth, don’t steal, and put my best foot forward. I remember her going back into a store to return money to a clerk who had given her too much. By all rights, she could have kept it. It was the clerk’s mistake after all. But she went back in and returned the cash. She used that as a teaching moment for me. Even though it was “legal” to keep it, it wasn’t “right.” Ethics vs. compliance. She always took things a step farther than most.

When Mom asked me to do something, I had better do it. On her time frame – not mine. You see, my time frame was when I felt like it. And many times I would “forget” before I “felt like it.” Which landed me in hot water. And when Mom told me to stop doing something. I had better stop. Immediately. I learned to be compliant to her instructions very quickly. Don’t get me wrong. There was never corporal punishment. But there was punishment for non-compliance. And it was consistent.

As I was growing up, times were tight on occasion. As a factory worker, she would struggle through layoffs. I remember her working two and three part-time jobs to provide for us. All of them together didn’t equal the full-time pay. Others she knew made an easy buck by doing things that were less than ethical and they had more stuff than we ever dreamed. But for her, reputation and morals always trumped stuff.

Work hard. Do the right thing. Follow the rules. Let your conscience be your guide.

I’m a communicator by trade. A storyteller of sorts. I take information people need to know and create something that makes them pause and think a moment. And, if I do my job well enough, they turn those thoughts into action. Maybe that’s why I made the leap from communication/public relations to ethics and compliance almost three years ago. Many things are legal to do, but are they ethical? Can I breathe life into an area that for many is so gray? Can I couple my passion as a communicator with my basic core of ethics and compliance and help others go a step further than most?

Today, I sadly sit here thinking about the approaching second anniversary of her death wishing I had more time with her. I fondly think of everything Mom stood for and wish she could read this post about her. It would make her laugh. And cry. And feel proud knowing that her life mattered. It had purpose. Choosing to do the right thing even when the right thing was hard to do. Always being able to look at herself in the mirror. I will never look in the mirror and be ashamed of what I see. And it’s because of her.

Thank you, Mom, for being my very first ethics and compliance teacher. You were the best.

19 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for sharing; your mom sounds like she was an awesome person. Sounds like you are doing a great job honoring what she taught you.

  2. Thank you for the insights. How true about parental wisdom. I was equally fortunate and call it the practice of “doing the right thing even when no one is looking.”

  3. What a fantastic article that resonates so well, especially in these turbulent times. Work hard. Do the right thing. Follow the rules. Let your conscience be your guide – Great advice from your mom that serve as a road map for life. Thanks for sharing.

    • Yes, we are definitely living in turbulent times, Joe. The decline of our moral values as a society is sad, but as professionals and individuals, it gives us a platform to revolutionize how things get done.

  4. Thanks Eugenia for sharing these thoughts. I always felt that we had a lot in common and now I see why–we were brought up very similarly. My own mother was a major force in my life, and I miss her every day.

  5. I am blessed to still have my Mom in my life but I could write the same words you did and it would also be about my Mom. I can only hope I have been half the Mom to my kids as mine was to me. Thank you so much for sharing and reminding me how important today is with my Mom.

  6. Your story is amazingly heart-felt and morally on point! Being able to make the right decision based on the right values holds true in everyday life. It certainly is a strong suit for those of us that are Compliance professionals.

    Thank you for reiterating the values that were instilled in me as a child. Your Mom sounds like a beautiful, warm, genius.

    Warmest Regards~

  7. Your article made me reflect on my own Mom, who died a few years ago and by the sounds of it both were very similar. Chances are they became friends in heaven. Here’s to the Best Ethics Officers in the world! Thank you for sharing! Very inspirational.
    Daisy Fernandez Seebach

  8. I lost my mother two and a half years ago. Your article really hit home because I recently told someone that when you lose your mother, your life is never the same. She was the one who kept me grounded. I would always base my decisions on “What would Mom think if I did that or said that?” And I still base them on that. My mom was also a hard worker. Widowed when she was twenty-one and had a two-year old and a seven month old baby. Always sacrificed for us.

  9. I loved your story. You could have been describing my Mom also. However, the thought came to me that what your Mom was doing was molding your character. How blessed a person is when they have someone in their lives at an early age to help a person develop those honorable traits. Even if someone did not have that influence in their lives, the choice of “What kind of person am I going to be at home and at work?” is still in their control. Hopefully 2018 will be a year of new beginnings and the choice of integrity and ethical choices will be the popular one. Our patient’s deserve it.

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