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

By Jodi L. O'Neill, CCEP
Deputy Director of Compliance – Indiana Public Retirement System (INPRS)

She did not have an official title as Deputy Compliance Officer. She did not have an office high up. She was not paid to learn morals and values. But what she did for me will last long after any job or title, place or salary. She rooted in me "doing 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 yourself in the mirror."

She was the first person to learn to understand all the facts, to tell the truth, not to steal and put my best foot forward. I remember going back to a store to give money back to an employee who had given her too much. Of all the rights she could have kept. It was the error of the clerk after all. But she went back and returned the money. She used this as a teaching moment for me. Even though it was "legal" to keep it, it was not "right". Ethics or compliance. She has always taken things a step further than most.

When Mom asked me to do something, I'd better do it. On his calendar – not mine. You see, my time frame was when I felt like that. And many times, I would have "forgotten" before I "feel". Which has landed me in the hot water. And when mom told me to stop doing something. I better stop. At once. I learned to comply with his instructions very quickly. Do not mistake yourself. There has never been corporal punishment. But there was a punishment for non-compliance. And it was consistent.

As I was growing up, times were tight on occasion. As a factory worker, she would face layoffs. I remember she was working two and three part-time jobs to support us. All together, they were not equal to full-time pay. Anything else she knew was easily gaining by doing things that were unethical and that contained more things than we had ever imagined. But for her, reputation and morality always prevailed over things.

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

I am a professional communicator. A storyteller of all kinds. I take information that people need to know and create something that makes them think and think for a moment. And, if I do my job well enough, they turn those thoughts into actions. It may be for this reason that 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 pair my communicator passion with my core ethical and compliance core and help others go further than most?

Today, I sit sadly thinking about the approach of the second anniversary of her death, wishing to have more time with her. I think fondly of everything mom represented and wish she could read this post about her. That would make her laugh. And cry. And feel proud to know that his life has counted. He had a purpose. Choose to do the right thing even when the right thing was hard to do. Always be able to look in the mirror. I will never look in the mirror and be ashamed of what I see. And it is because of her.

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

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