Down 'Under' But Not Forgotten And Other Thoughts

I wish you had known him.

Like many of you, I receive so many e-mails each day that it seems all we do is delete, forward or mark for later action. But every rare once in a while there is the e-mail that causes us to stop what we are doing and pause at the keyboard. For me, and for many, many others, it was a recent e-mail on the death of Grahame Mehrtens from complications from surgery. He was one of those people you just wanted to tell other people about, and even after doing so you were left with the feeling you hadn't done him justice.

The International Development Manager for Credit Union Foundation Australia, Mehrtens was well known to many within the international credit union community for his work in that country and in the South Pacific to both charter and strengthen fledgling credit union movements. I first met him in the late 1990s as part of CUNA's Development Education program, recognizing immediately his passion for credit unions and then, later in the evening, his ability to lift a tinnie or three.

When you spend most days caught up in the sophisticated and developed credit union community in the U.S., it is fascinating to have someone share with you their experiences trying to make credit unions work in, say, the Fiji islands. I can still hear Mehrtens' hearty laugh as he recalled returning to meet with a group of islanders one year after working with them to get a credit union up and running and discovering, to his consternation, they were proud to have lost money. After all, they were quick to note, he had taught them all about being not-for-profit, right?

A year later, prior to a visit to Sydney, Mehrtens scouted hotels in the city for me before I made a reservation. Because I had missed connecting with him when I eventually got to Sydney, Grahame, and his good mate, Bill Fields, agreed to meet me later far in the Outback when I was being a tourist and they were traveling to a local meeting on behalf of the foundation. I was running quite late, and Grahame and Bill had been waiting on the side of a very remote stretch of road and had agreed they would give me until the sun tucked behind a mountain to the west before they would get back in their car to get to their meeting. The sun was just sliding out of sight when I arrived, and I won't forget standing there on the side of the road laughing and catching up with each other in one of those strange situations that life sometimes delivers to us.

Nor will I forget Mehrtens' booming laughter later as he recalled for me that they had raced to get to the meeting only to find Bill had the wrong date. A native New Zealander who was as good at giving as getting a sheep-related joke, he was quick to clarify, "By that, I don't mean I was the date, mate."

A press release from Australia later noted that Mehrtens is survived by his wife Paula and their three children, Richard, Sarah and David. Those who knew him know quite well that Grahame is survived by countless more "mates" than that.

* Credit unions suffered another sad loss earlier this year when the California league's Kelly Purcell was killed while cycling. Seeking to honor Purcell, the league has created the Kelly J. Purcell Memorial Fund scholarship at the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University. The scholarship will go to "the student who exhibits the qualities Kelly lived every day," said the CCUL's Bob Arnould. For info, e-mail joebondi<at>gwu.edu.

* Former CBS newsman Dan Rather, who was only slightly less stiff in his remarks before the California/Nevada league than the podium he stood behind, had these observations:

* "While our sights are on Iraq and Afghanistan, we cannot lose sight that our interests are anchored in the Pacific Rim. India is about to replace China as the world's most populous country. And Japan, which is thought to be a pacifist country, has by some estimates the sixth best Army in the world. If, God forbid, there is another world war, it will start in the Pacific Rim, not in the Middle East."

* "I worked briefly for a newspaper, but I was such a poor speller I went to work at a radio station."

* "President Bush (the elder) has been very concerned, some say apoplectic, at what has happened in the Middle East."

* Rather, who said he believes the national media has lost its courage needs a "spine transplant," praised programs such as the popular Daily Show, saying it gets young people paying attention to politics. As for host Jon Stewart, he said, "He is very smart and recognizes that sometimes the most effective way to get to the truth is with humor."

* Speaking to an IT exec with WesCorp recently at its offices in San Dimas, Calif., I was told that the so-called Web 2.0 means we've finally arrived "at where the hype back in 1998 and 1999 said we were going to be."

* Finally, Think FCU in Minnesota recently filed to become a bank. The ironically named Think (since it really doesn't want members to think too much about its vote), submitted its application, appropriately enough, on Friday the 13th.

Frank J. Diekmann is publisher of The Credit Union Journal and can be reached at fdiekmann<at>cujournal.com.